News Feature | March 20, 2017

Report Reveals High Cost Of Non-Revenue Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A new report by an environmental group highlights the dire nature of the water infrastructure crisis.

The study released the Natural Resources Defense Council provides a case study on the negative consequences of water infrastructure problems in Pennsylvania, a state replete with old, urban water systems full of aging pipes as well as rural water systems with minimal resources to fund upgrades.

Prepared by Kunkel Water Efficiency Consulting, the report evaluated water audit data from Pennsylvania water utilities. The report makes clear that non-revenue water is a major consequence of infrastructure disrepair.  

Based on reported data from 155 Pennsylvania water utilities, the authors made the following estimates:

  • An estimated 327 million gallons per day treated drinking water are being lost each day across Pennsylvania;
  • Out of this total, over 104 million gallons per day of water losses, conservatively valued at nearly $20 million per year, are likely to be cost-effective for utilities to save. (This amount of water is equal to the water use of about 1.78 million Pennsylvania residents, or a population greater than Philadelphia, the state’s largest city);
  • An additional $138 million per year in lost revenue is likely to be cost-effective for utilities to recover through improved water measurement and billing practices.

NRDC recommended steps Pennsylvania can take to improve its water audit data. For instance, it called on state regulators to remove vague and obsolete language from its water system forms. It also said the state should consider establishing water loss reporting requirements for all water suppliers.

Pennsylvania is not alone. According to a report by the World Bank, "The total cost to water utilities caused by non-revenue water worldwide can be conservatively estimated at $141 billion per year, with a third of it occurring in the developing world. In developing countries, about 45 million cubic meters are lost daily through water leakage in the distribution networks — enough to serve nearly 200 million people."

Pennsylvania policymakers are in the midst of a debate over how to take on the non-revenue water problem and water quality issues. The administration of Governor Tom Wolf is advocating for new fees on drinking water from public water systems to pay for more safe drinking water inspectors, according to the Associated Press.

“The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says the $7.5 million in new fees would likely be passed onto Pennsylvania's 10.7 million water customers. Drinking-water inspectors dropped from 81 in 2009 to 61 currently amid years of cuts to DEP's budget. They inspect 8,500 public water systems,” the report said.