Preserving water for a sustainable future: A shocking amount of water is lost to leaky pipes

Aging water infrastructure and the resulting water loss is a prevailing problem throughout the nation.  Estimates show that 700 Billion – with a B – gallons a year of safe drinkable water is lost nationally to leaky pipes.  Leaky pipes contribute to billions of dollars – an estimate of $2.6 billion — in lost treated water.

We were in Austin, Texas this week for SXSW Eco to talk about transparency, communications, open data and other innovative approaches to managing environmental challenges and our most precious natural resource – water.  These were seemingly appropriate discussions to be held in Austin during a time that the city is amidst its worst drought on record.

We read an article last month that uncovered that the City of Austin, TX loses more than 3 billion gallons of water each year due to leaky or broken pipes – a number made even more alarming during this period of drought.

Of course one piece of the answer is to replace or reline these pipes, which would require a multimillion dollar investment for a city the size of Austin.  Similarly, in the areas where we operate, United Water will invest millions of millions of dollars over the next several years to reline or replace leaky and aging water infrastructure.

In addition, our non-revenue water or “water preservation” program is another piece of the answer. Our program has been key in “preserving” lost water in our extensive piping systems that distribute clean and safe water, and in identifying targeted areas for improvement.

We started by analyzing lost water:  losses can be real losses, due to leaks, or apparent losses, for example, through theft or metering inaccuracies. To pinpoint these losses, or sources of leaks, United Water’s water preservation program uses specialized software that identifies within our extensive pipe network where the losses are occurring

We then assess our options to “put our finger in the dyke” if you will.

Sometimes we need to repair or replace a deteriorating pipe. Sometimes we need to replace, retrofit or re-size meters to improve their accuracy and enable them to better measure water use. Other times, we target waste from point sources such as fire hydrants that are frequently opened for inappropriate uses, such as filling up private pools.

On a broad scale, we can install smarter metering across an entire city – such as Bayonne, NJ – to create a smarter water network.

By using these collective approaches we have thus far reduced the water lost across our operations from 24.2% to 21.6% by the end of 2012, surpassing our Sustainable Development goal of 22%.  Considering that we treat nearly 1 billion gallons of water daily, that reduction represents about 26 million gallons of water and wastewater that would otherwise be drawn from our rivers and streams or withheld from their replenishment.

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