From The Editor | January 29, 2016

Accounting For Drought: Better Water Through Validated Audits

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) is a consortium of over 50,000 water utility, treatment plant, scientific, academic, and regulatory members throughout the world.

Few of these members have as much work cut out for them as those represented by the California-Nevada Section, a branch of the group charged with supporting drinking water professionals in one of the country’s driest regions.

In an effort to uphold the AWWA’s mission of facilitating safe and reliable drinking water, the California-Nevada section announced a “validated system water audit” program as part of its Water Loss Control Collaborative.

“The desire to unify and expand independent water loss initiatives in order to… efficiently manage our water resources during continued dry years inspired the creation of this collaborative program,” said Sue Mosburg, the immediate past chair of AWWA’s California-Nevada Section. “Ultimately, we want all utilities to develop strong water loss control programs and having a good, validated audit is a crucial first step.”

The first phase of the program will start this year and run until the end of 2017. It begins with a third-party review of utilities’ supply, consumption, and testing reports. After reviewing the audits, Collaborative interviewers will question the utilities about organizational practices. Any anomalies that are discovered during the process will be noted for potential investigation during the more intensive second and third phases of validation to come. In exchange, the utilities receive technical assistance to evaluate the level of water loss in their systems and the ability to engage a proactive model of loss management.

Some utility employees may feel as if they have an overseer breathing down their necks, but defenders of the program note that it is in everyone’s best interest to mitigate water loss by any means necessary. While many utilities are already adept at collecting and interpreting data, the Collaborative hopes to assist those that may not be as comfortable and could benefit from its experience.

“Performing a system water loss [audit] represents a prime opportunity to take a critical look at the entire water delivery system and data management procedures, from source to tap, to create a stronger water supply and more resilient utility," Mosburg said. “Data from the audit can be used by utilities to identify areas of improvement, assist in the prioritization of capital projects, garner necessary project funding, and ultimately show stakeholders that they are good resource stewards.”

The Collaborative is based on a successful statewide effort performed in Georgia and may have arrived on the West Coast as a product of timing. Senate Bill 555, passed last October, requires 450 California utilities to submit validated water audits to the state’s Department of Water Resources as the region endures acute drought conditions. While AWWA estimates that about 130 state agencies have previously submitted water audit results to the California Urban Water Conservation Council, the others may need assistance in complying with the new bill.  

Earlier this month, the program received approval from the State Water Resources Control Board and $3.2 million in state funding to conduct a 23-month program.

“Approval of the program was amazingly fast, which is probably due to both the receptivity of the State Water Resources Control Board and the concept, and the extensive work that went into our proposal,” Mosburg said. “Now to get the funding in place, we are working with the state on the requirements for a grant using federal funds and that will take some time.”

It’s more than likely that the program will make its way to other regions in the country. As water becomes more precious and our ability to protect and deliver it more sophisticated, robust auditing is the natural product.

“From what we observe happening elsewhere, not just in the arid Western states, but in the Midwest, the South, and even Canadian provinces, the AWWA water audit methodology and the free audit software tool is spreading like wildfire,” Mosburg said. “The Collaborative is very likely to push this into the mainstream of effective utility management farther and faster.”