Leaks an Untapped Opportunity for Water Savings

March 08, 2022

Before a drop of treated water in California ever reaches a consumer’s faucet, about 8% of it has already been wasted due to leaks in the delivery system. Nationally, the waste is even higher, at 17%. This represents an untapped opportunity for water savings, according to recommendations from Ellen Bruno, assistant professor of cooperative extension in agriculture and resource economics, and researchers at the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first large-scale assessment of utility-level water loss in the United States. It found that leak reduction by utilities can be the most cost-effective tool in an urban water manager’s toolkit, provided utility-specific approaches are used. 

Using data from more than 800 utilities across California, Georgia, Tennessee, and Texas, the authors characterized water losses across the country. They developed a model to assess the economically efficient level of losses, and used that model to compare various water loss regulations and modeling approaches.

One-size-fits-all approaches to leak management are not effective, economical, or equitable for utilities, according to the researchers. Due to the varied size and resources of each utility provider, the team recommends applying utility-specific performance standards to deliver a comparable amount of water savings at a profit for both society and water providers.

For the median utility, the researchers determined that it is economically efficient to reduce water losses by 34.7%, or 100 acre-feet per year. This improved leak management strategy would deliver $277 of savings per acre-foot—cheaper than most traditional water management tools, including conservation campaigns and rebate programs.

Read the original press release on the UC Davis website.