It has been estimated that California wastes about 350,000 acre-feet of treated drinking water each year—a significant amount for an already water-challenged state. Proponents of Senate Bill 555, however, hope that legislative action helps address non-revenue water issues state-wide by providing data and valuable insight.
In last week’s blog we discussed Senate Bill 555, a new state law that will require California water utilities to begin reporting losses in their distribution systems. The law, passed by the state legislature in 2015 and now under public review, asks utilities treating more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually or with 3,000 connections to file validated water loss audits each year.
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Many of our readers expressed interest in the specifics of the audit requirement and were curious about the costs that the utilities will incur. We asked Todd Thompson, the individual charged with drafting the regulations and a senior engineer at California’s Department of Water Resources, to explain it in further detail. We’re grateful for his contribution.
Water Efficiency (WE): Why is it important to require water loss audits?
Todd Thompson(TT): Water loss audits are important to perform because management decisions regarding how the overall water system is managed and operated needs to begin with a strong understanding of the water system itself. While many California utilities have been performing annual water loss audits voluntarily as a water management tool, like those associated with California Water Efficiency Partnership (formerly known as the CUWCC), not all California utilities have taken this step. For that reason, the new annual water loss audit requirement is important.
WE: What will consolidating information accomplish?
TT: I think that the intent is not consolidation as much as it is just a place for audits to be stored and tracked and evaluated. The fact that they all end up at a location where they can be accessed by interested parties and the public is more of a secondary result of reporting.
WE: How does this mandated water loss tracking compare to that performed in other states?
TT: The State of Georgia has a very similar law that has been chaptered since 2010. In fact, they require utilities of the same size (urban retail water suppliers—3,000 connections or more or treating more than 3,000 acre-foot for human consumption) to submit annual validated water loss audits. They have had good results from their program and we have benefited from their lead. For example, their audit validation program. The California program is likely to be very similar. And why not? It is the same subject matter and audit process that is prescribed by statute.
WE: What remains prior to the bill’s approval?
TT: The bill is chaptered in the Water Code, which is why we are performing a rulemaking to establish reporting requirements for validated water loss audits. However, the regulations are currently in the public comment stage. After the comment period, the Department of Water Resources will evaluate the comments and make any necessary changes to improve the regulations. It is likely, but not certain, that another 15 day public process will follow because of changes to the regulations. Once all changes are made, the Department of Water Resources will take the regulations for approval by the California Water Commission and will subsequently file the regulations for final codification at the Office of Administrative Law.
WE: Will the cost to compile all the data required for the report be significantly less than the cost incurred by water loss?
TT: Yes. That is why the program exists. Savings can be realized in many ways because water loss includes water leaking from the system (real losses) as well as water that is being under-billed due to meter errors and water theft (apparent losses). An audit is an accounting of all the water through the distribution system. It identifies where the utility can better their practice to lessen water lost, increase revenue from unbilled or under-billed sources, reduce infrastructure repairs due to water leaks, and reduce operational costs (by not treating water that is lost). The identification of losses through the audit is the first step. Audits with validation are relatively inexpensive, depending on the utility size ($3,600 to $7,600).