Despite my fascination with the adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result,” I still occasionally find myself — a creature of habit — falling into a pattern of repetitive unsuccessful behavior.
When it comes to non-revenue water losses, how many water utilities are in the same boat — knowing that some degree of water loss is occurring, but never quite getting around to the point of quantifying it? Fortunately, the AWWA has a solution in its M36 water audit guidelines and free water-audit software, which provide reliable methodologies for breaking costly old habits.
“How Are We Doing?” (Quantifying The Size Of The Problem)
Answering the question of how your utility is doing starts with establishing an audit performance benchmark, then following up annually with comparative audits. The State Of Water Loss Control In Drinking Water Utilities — a white paper available from the AWWA website — outlines the many categories that make up non-revenue water loss (Figure 1), along with some best practices for controlling those losses. Another AWWA resource is the guidance manual, M36, Water Audits and Loss Control Programs (4th Ed; 2016), which offers a look-inside preview available in a PDF format.
Reprinted from M36 Water Audits and Loss Control Programs, Fourth Edition.
Copyright © 2016 American Water Works Association.
Figure 1. Water use can fall into a variety of categories — revenue-generating, non-revenue-generating, known, and unknown.
The M36 audit methodology and the free water-audit software available at the bottom of AWWA’s Water Loss Control webpage represent sound approaches for any water utility — whether or not they face state-mandated audit requirements. States that require full compliance with the M36 audit methodology or rudimentary reporting compliance are shown here (Figure 2).
Figure 2. According to the AWWA, its free water-audit software was downloaded 7,175 times between 2014 and 2017. As of 2018, only 6 states have mandated use of the M36 methodology, 20 more mandate only rudimentary water-loss reporting, and 24 states have no water-loss reporting mandate at all.
Quantifying the impacts of water loss extends to both cost implications and water scarcity implications, each with ripple effects to other aspects of water supply operations. Being prepared to identify and minimize both the costs and the side-effects of unchecked water loss can help to break the vicious cycle where unaccounted losses lead to increased stress on a dwindling resource.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
With water distribution pipelines representing two-thirds of projected water utility expenditure across the U.S., it only makes sense to audit for leaks that continually sap treated-water resources with no chance to be billed for customer use. Still, transmission infrastructure leaks are not the sole area of concern. M36 audit implementation highlights three major priority areas for monitoring:
Take A Systematic Look At The State Of Your Water Utility
Part of the challenge in calculating non-revenue water losses comes from the fact that some losses are physically or practically invisible. That makes it hard to appreciate the real cost impacts until a complete audit is conducted. Here are just some of the topics and step-by-step guidelines covered in the M36 water-audit manual that can help pinpoint water losses and indicate methods for reducing them:
Is Today The Day?
Some might say, “We’re so busy putting out (hypothetical) fires that we don’t have time to build a ‘fire department’.” At some point, however, we all need to admit that simply rushing from one wildfire to another can eventually become “insane.” Consider downloading the resources from the above AWWA links, today, and explore the benefits they offer for your utility. It might take a month or two before you can change the impacts of non-revenue water losses, but I promise you will thank yourself in the long run.