The High Cost of Non-Revenue Water Infographic

The High Cost of Non-Revenue Water Infographic

Fix a Leak Week is celebrated in the United States each March in order to remind people to check their homes for leaks, both indoors and out. Household leaks account for more than one trillion gallons of wasted water annually in the United States. To put it into perspective, that’s equal to the annual household water use of over 11 million homes. Fix a Leak Week encourages homeowners to repair their dripping faucets, leaky toilets, old showerheads, and faulty irrigation systems in an effort to save our nation’s water. But that’s only part of the problem.

10-30% of our nation’s clean, treated drinking water is “lost” before it ever even reaches the consumer. In fact, about seven billion gallons of water are lost in this way every single day. Lost water, also called non-revenue water, accounts for billions of dollars in lost revenue each year. Most of this non-revenue water is the result of our nation’s leaking, aging pipes, which received a grade of D+ on the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013 Report Card.

So while fixing the leaks in our homes is certainly valuable, fixing the leaks in our nation’s pipes is critical to a sustainable future. Not only will repairing our nation’s crumbling underground infrastructure save money, but it will also increase water availability, lowering operation and maintenance costs, reducing the need for new sources and treatment plants, and diminishing impacts from drought and climate change. Unfortunately, repairing and replacing pipes is costly. Therefore, utilities need to accurately pinpoint the most problematic areas in the distribution system so they can invest their limited infrastructure dollars where they are needed most. Water audits, which take into account both real and apparent losses, are the most efficient, cost-effective way to accurately assess non-revenue water.

Feel free to share the infographic below, with attribution, download a printable PDF, or request a printed poster. During Fix a Leak Week, let’s not only repair our faulty flappers, but also our nation’s leaking underground pipes. The future depends on it.

Imagine a Day Without Water

imagine_a_day_without_waterImagine a day without water. What would you do after you woke up? There would be no shower, no morning cup of coffee, no brushing your teeth, no flushing the toilet. And that’s just first thing in the morning. Imagine the rest of the day without water – it’s almost impossible to do.

cost_of_water_vs_sodaWater is life. We’ve heard it before and know it to be true, and yet water is one of the least valued, at least in terms of dollar amounts, resources on the planet. According to the Value of Water Coalition, municipal water in the United States costs the consumer $.01 per gallon, whereas soda costs $2.37 per gallon. In a way, it’s understandable. After all, water isn’t something we think about. If we want fresh, clean water, hot or cold, all we do is turn on the tap. And our wastewater simply flows down the drain or flushes down the toilet. Out of sight, out of mind.

The reality is that providing safe, clean drinking water and treating our wastewater is in fact a complicated and costly endeavor. There are thousands of pipes running beneath our feet, carrying water from treatment plants where all toxins, bacteria, and other harmful material are removed, and there are even more thousands carrying away our wastewater, ensuring that it is hidden away so we aren’t exposed to it or sickened by it. These pipes run to wastewater treatment plants where the wastewater is treated and cleaned before it is returned to the ground to replenish our water supply.

water_loss_year_united_statesOne of the greatest achievements of the 20th century was the construction of our nation’s water and sewer systems. Diseases such as typhoid fever and cholera, once prevalent and deadly, were practically eradicated. Industry thrived, the economy flourished, and public health improved exponentially. Our lives and livelihoods depend on water, yet we balk at investing in it. The average monthly cell phone bill is $73, cable TV bill is $99, and internet bill is $47. Yet the average monthly water bill is only about $30. We can all easily imagine a day without our cell phone, cable TV, or internet; these items are luxuries. And yet we pay more for these services than we do for water. That is a sobering fact that needs to change, and soon.

water_loss_united_statesAccording to the Value of Water Coalition, the expected longevity of water and wastewater infrastructure is 50 years, yet the average age of these very pipes in Washington D.C. is 79 years. New England infrastructure is even older, much of it over 100 years old. Aging infrastructure accounts for 1.7 trillion gallons of lost water — water that has already been treated and is clean and ready for drinking — per year, which is the amount of water consumed by the top ten American cities annually. With 43% of our nation experiencing drought, and our demand rising due to population growth, this excessive water loss from failing pipes is crippling. The 1.7 trillion gallons of lost water comes at a staggering cost of $2.6 billion, which is about the amount of money that the federal government allots to water infrastructure annually.

age_united_states_water_infrastructureTo repair our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure would require an investment of $4.8 trillion over the next 20 years. Yet infrastructure spending is actually down 30% since 2012. Add to that the degradation of our water supply through pollution and environmental damage, and it is clear why communities are struggling to simply meet drinking water standards and to maintain their aging infrastructure, never mind upgrade.

Hoping to share the value of our world’s most precious resource, the Value of Water Coalition conceptualized “Imagine a Day Without Water.” The inaugural event takes place October 6-8, 2015, and encourages everyone, from water suppliers to engineering firms to concerned citizens, to spread the word about the value of water. It’s easy to see that our transportation infrastructure needs investment; after all, hearing about bridge collapses and failing dams is cause for concern, and the American public demands repairs. But what about water? Again, we don’t see it, so we don’t think about it or talk about it. But if our water system failed, life as we know it would halt. Industry depends on water for manufacturing, agriculture requires irrigation, and we need water simply to go on living.

water_loss_united_statesThe time to invest in our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure is now. Help spread the word about the value of water, and encourage friends and colleagues to try to imagine a day without water. With some smart investing, careful planning, education, conservation, and governmental support, the most we will need to do is imagine a day without water, not actually live it.

National Public Works Week 2015

national public works week 2015 posterThis week, May 17-23, is National Public Works Week 2015. It follows directly on the heels of National Infrastructure Week, which is appropriate considering that public works and infrastructure are intricately connected. During Infrastructure Week, we took a look at the dire needs of our water infrastructure, and the importance of investing in this critical system. This week we are focusing on all facets of infrastructure and public works, including the incredible people who make it all possible.

According to the American Public Works Association (APWA), public works is the combination of physical assets, management practices, policies, and personnel necessary for government to provide and sustain structures and services essential to the welfare and acceptable quality of life for its citizens. Public Works employees provide such necessary services as trash collection, road and bridge repairs, and water treatment and supply. Without the tireless efforts of these extraordinary people, both our quality of life and our nation’s economy would drastically decline. During blizzards, our public works employees are awake all night plowing the roadways in order to make them safe and passable. During hot summers, public works employees can be seen filling potholes and paving roadways. All year round, public works employees ensure that we have a steady supply of clean, safe drinking water while also ensuring that our trash and wastewater are swiftly and neatly carried away.

Let’s take a look at some impressive facts about our nation’s infrastructure and public works:

public works employee

  • Public works accounts for about 2.2 million jobs in the U.S.
  • Every American generates about 4.5 lbs. of municipal solid waste (MSW) per day; MSW, more commonly referred to as trash, consists of everyday items such as product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries.
  • The U.S. has four million miles of public roads and 594,000 bridges.
  • Transportation-related goods and services contributed to 10% of U.S. GDP in 2006, which is roughly $1.4 billion.
  • Every $1 taxpayers invest in public transportation generates up to $6 in economic return.
  • 268 million Americans get their drinking water from a community water system.
  • Water utilities treat approximately 34 billion gallons of water per day.
  • Drinking water supply infrastructure in the U.S. consists of dams, reservoirs, well fields, pumping stations, aqueducts, water treatment plants, water storage, and 1.8 million miles of distribution lines.
  • Publicly owned wastewater treatment plants serve 189.7 million people and treat 32.1 billion gallons per day.
  • Sanitation infrastructure in the U.S. consists of sewage pumping stations, over 16,000 publicly owned wastewater treatment plants, and 1.2 million miles of sewers.

Clearly, public works and infrastructure contribute greatly to our economy and lifestyle. Unfortunately, our infrastructure, and therefore our public works, requires an infusion of revenue and significant updating in order to continue to function properly. Take a look at these concerning facts:

water main break NYC
Water main break in New York City
  1. Our infrastructure is teetering on the edge of a failing grade. America’s Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the U.S. a D+ grade for its infrastructure condition, with $3.6 trillion worth of repair and restructuring costs needed by 2020. The grade encompasses aviation, bridges, drinking water, dams, energy, hazardous waste, levees, ports, public parks, trails, roads, schools, solid waste removal, wastewater removal, and transit.
  2. One out of every nine bridges in the United States is at risk of structural failure.
  3. Almost a third of all roads in the United States are in need of major repairs.
  4. Our ports soon won’t be able to accommodate any new ships.
  5. Our airports are some of the most congested in the world and our runways cannot accommodate the steadily increasing demand for air travel and additional airplanes.
  6. The United States is ranked at number 19 for quality of infrastructure, behind Denmark, Spain, Portugal and United Arab Emirates.
  7. Infrastructure spending has plummeted since 2008 due to both federal and state budget cuts.
  8. About 20 percent of our nation’s fresh, treated water — about 1.7 trillion gallons — is lost as a result of crumbling subterranean infrastructure.
  9. There are over 237,000 water main breaks every year in the U.S. That’s 700 a day, and almost one every two minutes.
  10. Our electricity infrastructure is also in need of immediate attention. Rolling blackouts, brownouts and general shortcomings in the US electrical grid costs around $80 billion a year.
  11. Between 1995 and 2004, highway mileage grew at an average rate of .2 percent, while vehicle miles traveled increased at an average rate of 2.5 percent. In other words, the number of Americans travelling is growing at a far faster pace than the rate of highway development.
  12. Traffic congestion costs the United States approximately $124 billion each year, and the average American commuter spends 38 hours a year stuck in traffic. In Boston, that number rises to over 50 hours.
  13. Over 4,000 of America’s dams are considered unsafe, 1,300 of which are considered high hazard, meaning their failure would result in loss of life.
  14. One third of all highway fatalities are the result of poor road conditions, dated road designs and layout, or roadside hazards.
last spike 1869
The world’s First Transcontinental Railroad was built between 1863 and 1869 to join the eastern and western halves of the United States. Shown here, shaking hands at the ceremony of the driving of the “last stake”, May 10, 1869.

But it’s not all bad news. With some targeted investing and smart building, we can modernize our infrastructure while contributing to America’s economic stability and workforce. The potential economic contribution of 30 large water and wastewater utilities over the next decade is $524 billion and 289,000 jobs. One billion dollars of investment in transportation infrastructure supports 34,700 jobs and provides about $1.8 billion of GDP, generating nearly $500 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues. Lastly, we have a ready and able construction workforce. In 2012, nearly 16 percent of America’s construction workers were unemployed.

Over the past century, the continued strength and viability of the United States has relied heavily on infrastructure and the people who make it all run smoothly: American public works employees. Investment in infrastructure now not only saves a significant amount of money in the future, but also supports the present economy and workforce. By making smart investments in infrastructure and protecting what has made this nation so great, we can continue to enjoy the quality of life for which America is known.

And that quality of life is also largely made possible by public works employees. So be sure to thank your public works professionals this week for a job well done. Happy National Public Works Week!

World Water Day 2015 — Sustainable Development and Its Criticality to Domestic Water Supplies

Public Water Supply“When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” – Ben Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac 1733

World Water Day is March 22, 2015, and the theme is Sustainable Development. But what exactly IS sustainable development? It was first defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1983:

  1. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

More recently, University of Maryland School of Public Policy professor and former Chief Economist for the World Bank Herman E. Daly proposed the following three rules for sustainability:

  1. Renewable resources such as fish, soil, and groundwater must be used no faster than the rate at which they regenerate.
  2. Nonrenewable resources such as minerals and fossil fuels must be used no faster than renewable substitutes for them can be put into place.
  3. Pollution and wastes must be emitted no faster than natural systems can absorb them, recycle them, or render them harmless.

While sustainable development always includes the global effort to provide clean water and sanitation to the world’s population, it also requires developed nations to implement efficient technologies and to protect existing resources by addressing threats and incorporating conservation strategies into daily life. Consider these facts:

  • Less than 1 percent of the world’s fresh water is usable in a renewable fashion
  • The average person requires 1.3 gallons of water per day just to survive, while the amount of water needed for all daily tasks – like drinking, cooking, bathing, and sanitation – is 13 gallons
  • The average American uses 65 to 78 gallons of water per day for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering their yard; the average Dutch uses only 27 gallons per day for the same tasks
  • The average Gambian uses only 1.17 gallons of water per day

sprinklerAmerica is one of the world’s largest consumers of water, and to do our part towards sustainable development, we must begin by modifying our domestic water usage.

Efficiency – the Most Effective Method of Conservation

By implementing indoor residential conversation techniques, we could meet the water needs of over five million people by the year 2020, and by incorporating efficient irrigation techniques, we could save enough water to meet the needs of an additional 3.6 million people. In addition, if we were to also invest in our nation’s water infrastructure and supply to incorporate efficient technologies to reduce water loss, we would be able to meet all of our domestic water needs — agricultural, industrial, and residential. This would result in easing the stress on our natural resources as well as saving enough water to guard against another concern: climate change.

Climate Change in the United States – An Imminent Threat

Rocky MountainClimate change increases the risk of extreme weather, such as droughts and floods, and alters the timing and location of precipitation. For example, climate change has the potential to alter snowfall and snowmelt in the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada, and Pacific Northwest. Any alteration in snowfall or snowmelt will cause changes in timing and volume of runoff, resulting in flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. In addition, coastal aquifers and water supplies in areas such as Cape Cod, Long Island, the coastal Carolinas, and central coastal California are extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Other products of climate change — such as higher water temperature in lakes and streams, melting permafrost, and reduced water clarity — have the potential to critically threaten fish and water-dwelling animals as well harm wetlands and other water habitats. Climate change has the potential to drastically alter our nation’s weather patterns and geological landscape, and any delays in addressing climate change and in planning effective strategies for the impending changes could severely threaten our nation’s water supplies. Clearly, addressing climate change now is one of the key components to sustainable development.

sunset over water smallWhile the global focus of sustainable development needs to be on providing access to clean water and sanitation for everyone, we also need to look within our own borders and change the way we think about water and our natural resources. Unless we institute positive change and focus on conservation by implementing efficient technologies and practices, we will likely find ourselves facing dire consequences. As Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, stated so eloquently, “The best way to solve emerging threats to the world’s fresh water is by rethinking how we use and manage our scarce resources. We must look at ways to increase our efficiency of use, instead of just building more dams and reservoirs. Improving the efficiency of our water systems, taking real steps to tackle global warming, and opening the policy debate over water to new voices can help turn the tide.”

We couldn’t have said it better.


Water, Water Everywhere: Understanding our Water Infrastructure

Staying afloat of our nation’s growing water infrastructure problems means understanding the culprits

Understanding our water infrastructure

Water main breaks, “Do not drink” orders, and water leak emergencies are headlines we are  used to seeing as across the nation, Americans learn that the country is losing an estimated 2.1 trillion gallons of water each year due to leaking pipes, broken mains, and faulty meters.

The problem is that amongst all the infrastructure systems we have – transportation, telecommunications, air traffic control – water and sewer pipelines are mostly hidden from our daily lives.  We often don’t know there is a problem, until there is one.

And yet, our water system is one of the most important and economically viable infrastructure systems we have in our country. The US Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that for every dollar spent on water infrastructure, about $2.62 is generated in the private economy, and for every job added in the water workforce, about 3.68 jobs are added to the national economy.

A recent article from National Public Radio blames much of the problem to aging pipes originally installed close to 100 years ago.   In many cases, however, that isn’t necessarily the case. Some pipes can last hundreds of years in proper soil conditions. In other cases pipes just a couple of decades old can be found in complete disrepair because of the environment around the pipe.

Just think about your town and how it has developed over the last 10,15, or even 20 years.  The town is probably unrecognizable compared to what it looked like 100 years ago when many of the same water lines we use today were installed.  New elements, often corrosive ones, may have been introduced into the soil surrounding the pipelines including landfills, cinders in the pavement, contamination, stray currents, and high groundwater.  These elements represent only a few that will degrade the exterior of the pipe over time, ultimately causing failure.  By understanding why pipes fail and documenting corrosive areas, communities can focus their limited dollars on replacing pipes with a high risk of failure.

It has been estimated that over the next 20 years, upgrading municipal water and wastewater systems is expected to cost between $3 and $5 trillion. Building and replacing water and sewage lines alone will cost some $660 billion to $1.1 trillion over the same time period. This is money utilities will need and that states do not have to give.  With water rates already on the rise, more has to be done to cost efficiently upgrade our infrastructure.

While the country is now faced with the inevitable burden of paying for upgrades, many in the industry argue that there is an efficient way to modernize our water infrastructure without breaking the bank. A suite of cost-effective approaches to reducing water loss and providing smart, responsible water service to customers are now being employed in municipalities across the country. Best practices include state-of-the-art auditing methods, leak detection monitoring, targeted repairs or upgrades, pressure management, and better metering technologies. By adopting such practices, water service providers can save themselves and their communities money in the long run, while protecting water resources and generating economic growth.