Losing in Vegas – Water & Money!

This blog post was written by Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

Most people who go to Las Vegas probably worry about losing money. Those of us here in Vegas at the Sixth Annual WaterSmart Innovations Conference, hosted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority, worry about losing water. But water losses often mean lost revenue for water utilities; and if your water utility is losing too much water in its distribution system, it could be gambling with your community’s future.

Maybe that’s why utility water loss was the topic of several sessions at the national water conservation conference I’m attending in Vegas. “Water loss” is a slippery term (pardon the expression) and may include both “real losses” (physical losses of water in the distribution system through, for example, leaking pipes and water main breaks) and “apparent losses” (for example, losses due to water meter errors), both of which should be of concern to water utilities. Both are “non-revenue water,” a term that water professionals are using to convey the fact that water loss means revenue loss to utilities that are often financially challenged.

Among the wealth of information about water loss I gleaned from the WaterSmart Innovations sessions, here are three important items of note for folks who want to see this issue addressed:

  1. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) is releasing a report this month (October) on building the case for utilities to tackle water loss in their systems. At the conference Danielle Gallet described how CNT’s research on water loss in the eight Great Lakes states found a great need to develop the case to persuade utilities to address water loss (71% of the utilities responding to a CNT survey said they had no policy on water loss, and only 60% said they conducted water audits).
  2. The Water Research Foundation will be holding webinars in early 2014 to present a new component analysis model and software tool for better pinpointing “real losses” in water utilities. This new model and tool is the result of a two-year research project (Water RF 4372) discussed by Kate Gasner of Water Systems Operations at the Conference. The City of Austin was one of the utilities participating in this project.
  3. The American Water Works Association’s Water Loss Control Committee is promoting validation of water audits. Without clear standards and practices, one can’t be sure that audits are conducted correctly and that the information on water loss from those audits is accurate, Will Jernigan from Cavanaugh & Associates reported at the conference. The State of Georgia has become a leader in validation of water audits.

One encouraging thing is that Texas is actually among the states making the most progress in confronting water loss. As reported by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in the Texas Legislature in 2013 passed a number of bills that address the water loss issue and related conservation measures. If we play our cards right, the next time water conservationists gather in Vegas, Texas will be able to show a winning hand on reducing water loss.

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