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Drip, Drip, Drop: The Costly Reality of Water Leakage

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3 min

Welcome to the Leakster blog series, where we will dive deep into the world of water leakage and its far-reaching impacts. We plan to peel back the layers to reveal the startling truth about water wastage in our modern utilities systems discuss what utilities are doing about it and identify how they can do better.   

We will explore the delicate balance between economic considerations and water scarcity concerns in the context of leakage management.  We will look at some of the common metrics associated with leakage management why some of these metrics and/or the practical application of these fall short.   By understanding the trade-offs utilities face when prioritising expenditure, sustainability, and customer outcomes we can discover strategies and technologies for reconciling these competing objectives. 

The aim is to highlight how water supply systems can be more efficient and sustainable, reducing the economic and environmental impacts of water loss.  

What is water leakage and defining the key terms? 

Water leakage is more than just a few drops down the drain—it's a significant problem that affects both customers and the environment on a massive scale. From leaky faucets, to aging infrastructure to undetected underground leaks, the scale of water wastage is staggering.

Water is extracted from the source, treated and pumped to customers through a series of pipelines which we will refer to as the ‘distribution system or the ‘supply side.’  Once it reaches the customers house, it flows through a water meter.  This is the point where the water is owned by the customer – so any leaking taps, toilets or pipes after the meter is customer side leakage.

While customer side leakage, or the ‘demand side’ is a problem our real focus in this series is the supply side losses, the water lost before it arrives at the customer meter or non-revenue water. 

Non-Revenue Water (NRW) refers to water that has been treated and is "lost" before it reaches the customer. It represents the difference between the total volume of water put into the water distribution system and the volume that is billed to customers

NRW is made up of the following: 

  • Real Losses: Physical water losses from the system due to leaks, bursts, and overflows and evaporation.
  • Apparent Losses: Losses due to metering inaccuracies, unauthorized consumption (theft), and data handling errors.
  • Unbilled Authorized Consumption: This water is used but not billed, for example for firefighting

How much do we lose? 

NRW in developed countries averages between 10% to 30% of total supply and in developing countries can be up to 60% of total supply.  This can vary significantly by utility and by region.  According to the Australian Water Association, water utilities across Australia lose an estimated 10%-20% of treated water through leaks, bursts, and other forms of water loss. We would challenge that this metric is consistently under reported. 

What causes supply side leakage

Distribution system leakage is a significant concern for water utilities worldwide.  It  arises from a variety of factors and effects the integrity and efficiency of the water supply network:

  • Aging infrastructure: One of the most common reasons for leakage is the deterioration of old pipes and joints, which can lead to cracks, breaks, and eventual leaks.
  • Ground movement: Shifting soil or geological activity can damage pipelines.
  • Temperature fluctuations: Extreme temperature changes can cause pipes to expand and contract, weakening joints and leading to leaks. Global warming and extreme weather exacerbate the problem. 
  • Operational failure: Excessive pressure within the system can cause pipes to burst or fittings to fail.
  • Lack of maintenance and monitoring: Regular maintenance and monitoring are crucial for early detection of potential weak points in the system. Neglecting these practices can allow minor leaks to worsen over time, leading to significant water loss.

Why is this important: 

Water leakage presents significant challenges, both environmentally and economically. 

Leakage leads to the wastage of water, exacerbating water scarcity issues which is a large issue particularly in times of drought and water scarcity. From an environmental perspective, the energy and resources invested in treating and pumping water only for it to be lost to leaks contributes to unnecessary carbon emissions. 

Economically, water utilities face increased operational costs associated with the production and distribution of additional water to compensate for losses. Bursts and leakage can cause infrastructure damage, soil erosion, and road subsidence, posing additional public safety risks and financial burdens.

And here is the kicker: all of this leads to higher water tariffs for consumers. 

Addressing water leakage is critical for sustainable water management, requiring utilities to invest in maintenance, technology and infrastructure renewal to minimise losses.  This is not debated by anyone.  The question however becomes what is the efficient level of investment?

So grab a cup of water, sit back, and join us as we uncover the costly reality of water leakage, how utilities are responding, and how Leakster is helping tackle this dilemma.

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Drip, Drip, Drop: The Costly Reality of Water Leakage

Water leakage is more than just a few drops down the drain—it's a significant problem that affects both customers and the environment on a massive scale.

Read more

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