Required Reporting for Water Utilities

California’s Senate Bill 555


Water delivery systems leak. Therefore, non-revenue water is an issue concerning all water delivery systems—not only because water lost represents dollars lost, but because it also means the waste of a precious resource.

According to a study 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.” Industry estimates put typical system leakage at about 10%. However in developing countries, the report estimates that about 45 million cubic meters are lost from distribution networks daily.

A new state law will soon require California water utilities to begin reporting losses in their distribution systems. Senate Bill 555, a law passed by the state legislature in 2015 and now under public review, requires utilities treating more than 3,000 acre-feet of water annually or with 3,000 connections to file validated water loss audits. The audit requirement will affect 410 utilities beginning in October 2017.

While the required reporting seems a positive stride toward improving utility management practices and system efficiencies, it will most likely involve a significant amount of work to consolidate and validate data. But beyond conservation, utilities will potentially be able to use the information to help reduce operations costs, detect real water losses, and repair infrastructure before it becomes problematic.

“You conduct a water loss audit to get an estimate of where the water is going and how much is being lost as a result of either meter errors, water theft, or actual leaks in the system,” Todd Thompson, a senior engineer at the California Department of Water Resources told Water Deeply. “The water loss audit is the first step in making that determination. It’s important in California, as it is everywhere, to make sure we use our resources as wisely as possible and as efficiently as possible. Water loss auditing is a step in that direction.”

According to Thompson, most utilities have the data on hand. Consolidating and validating that data will simply mean a bit more work. Is Senate Bill 555 a step in the right direction or over-regulation? What would similar legislation mean for your utility? WE_bug_web

  • Keven.

    This is interesting but why not go through the Sanitary Survey to obtain and monitor a community water system owner’s effort on reducing water leaks?

  • Edo McGowan.

    Laura, most of us in water know what “water hammer” means, the knocking and banging sound in the pipes when water is quickly shut off. It comes from inertia of the rushing water slamming into the turned off tap and the energy transferred to the pipes which stretch, retract, and rattle. But what many do not appreciate that curve of pressure after it peaks, then falls back, and overshoots into a minus. That minus or negative pressure can pull into the piping surrounding contaminants which then can set up growth, and if harmful bacteria, potentially their establishment within a biofilm. These biofilms, once established are difficult to control. For example, the large distillation system in a major hospital where the system made up water for sterile usage such as IV infiltration was thus compromised. Try as they might, it was found to be impossible to successfully decontaminate the system so it was eventually ripped out and replaced. The Johnson Space Center has found that contamination of its space water systems is also nearly impossible to decontaminate. So, where does this leave the average home owner? That leak and water hammer can be blocks away from your house, but the growing biofilm can send dislodged bacteria from blocks away. Residual chlorine and other similar materials may not affect biofilms, as has been well documented. So the costs are not seen merely in the value of lost water, but also the unappreciated costs in unintended health care.

    Dr Edo McGowan

  • Cary Myers.

    I am curious if the cost to compile all the data required for such a report will be significantly less than the actual losses incurred. And how do they determine the difference between a faulty meter, a leaking pipe, or outright theft?

    • Laura S.

      That’s an excellent question. My sense is that the cost to compile and analyze the data is typically worth the effort to the utility, as reflected in its bottom line. Would any of you in the field care to respond with some insight?

  • Peter Williams.

    If you look at the costs of leakage as “just” the cost of water, then the numbers may or may not add up when it comes to fixing the leak. If you factor in energy and chemicals costs from pumping and treating water that then leaks, and the risk of the leaks growing to cause subsidence and property damage, you come up with a different answer.
    In addition, leak detection is likely to be easier and faster on a system that has fully telemetered bulk meters and AMI, and sufficient pressure gauges on the system, as the leaks tend to show up as discrepancies between different data points, which SCADA and other tools can increasingly be configured to spot. And the same tooling then helps you to optimize pump settings, which reduces pressure (and thus propensity for bursts as well as wear and tear on the system) while also reducing energy costs, potentially very substantially.
    At which point the business case for leak detection starts to morph into the business case for better system management generally, which then gives you leak detection as one of many benefits.


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