Making Every Drop Count

Globally, non-revenue water amounts to an average of 34 percent of processed water. In other words, 34 percent of the water that a utility has treated and pumped is not billed. The World Bank estimates that non-revenue water costs utilities $14 billion, annually, worldwide. In the United States, reports have shown that the non-revenue water totals between 10 and 30 percent, with more than 240,000 main breaks each year. Many utilities are dealing with pipes that are more than 100 years old and in desperate need of replacement. These repairs are expected to have up to a trillion-dollar impact to utilities over the next 25 years.

With this in mind, what does non-revenue water really mean to a water utility? There are several areas in which non-revenue water can affect a water utility, including:

  • Energy costs and chemical treatment costs
  • The life and capacity of pumping and treatment facilities
  • Property damage and liability claims
  • Contaminants in the water system
  • Energy Costs

Making Every Drop Count

According to business consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, a water utility’s energy expenditure can exceed 65 percent of its annual budget. The rise in energy costs is one of the top concerns among water utilities. The energy required to pump and treat water is very expensive. This makes it critically important that they are able to generate revenue as possible from the water they supply. By reducing non-revenue water, utilities can drastically cut their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Longevity and Capacity of Pumping and Treatment Facilities

Like anything else, the pumping and treatment facilities at utilities have their performance limits. As cities and towns grow around the world, the demand for clean water grows. This drives utilities to expand or build new pumping and treatment facilities. It may in fact be cheaper and more beneficial for utilities to reduce the amount of non-revenue water before building new pumping and treatment facilities.

Property Damage and Liability Claims

Large water main breaks can become very costly for utilities and may result in additional property damage liability claims. Repairing a leak before it becomes a large main break can be drastically cheaper. Acoustic sensors can detect leaks before they become large main breaks and utilities can deploy these acoustic sensors throughout their system to help prevent these catastrophic leaks. Reducing the risk of these large liability claims can be very beneficial.


Any time a large break occurs in the distribution system, there is a chance of bacteria getting into the water system. This brings its own issues for the utility. Again, by being proactive and repairing leaks before they become catastrophic main breaks, utilities can address this before incurring unexpected costs.

The Value of a Non-Revenue Water Program

As the demand for water increases worldwide, the value of an effective non-revenue water program becomes critical to the success of the water utility. There are several areas where a non-revenue water program provides significant value to the utility:

  • Reduced water loss in the distribution system
  • Optimized system maintenance?
  • Improved effectiveness of water conservation efforts?
  • Inactive account monitoring

Reduced Water Loss in the Distribution System

By deploying acoustic sensors throughout the distribution system, utilities will have early warnings of leaks. This allows utilities to schedule maintenance and leak surveys in targeted areas where leaks may actually be present. This saves the utility a lot of time and resources by reducing the amount of work required to locate leaks. The utility becomes more efficient and quickly reduces the amount of water lost through leaks.

District meter analysis can also help utilities localize potential leaks. By dividing the distribution system into districts and then installing district meters, district meter analyzers and pressure sensors, the utility can determine what areas are experiencing pressure changes and flow profile changes. This allows the utility to determine which districts to perform leak surveys in to locate and repair leaks.

Optimized System Maintenance

Finding leaks before they become catastrophic main breaks reduces the expensive repair costs. In most cases, water main breaks destroy large sections of streets which increase the repair costs. Main breaks in many cases also come with casualty costs, including liability for destruction of personal property, rerouting of traffic and lost revenue for local businesses. Being proactive with a non-revenue water program can help utilities reduce the amount of main breaks and avoid associated costs.

Improved Effectiveness of Conservation Efforts

Non-revenue water programs should not only target distribution leaks, but also target customer-side leaks. Notifying customers of potential leaks on their property will enhance customer satisfaction and help with overall conservation efforts. Even though utilities actually get revenue from leaks behind the meter, it is in their best interest to help customers repair these leaks. This helps the utility maintain their operational costs, preserve the life of pumping and treatment facilities and delay plant expansions.

Inactive Account Monitoring

The current housing crisis has brought with it additional problems for water utilities. Houses that are left vacant often have copper pipes that are stolen along with the meter to be sold for the copper content. In most cases, the utility has no idea this has occurred and water continuously runs unmonitored. Acoustic leak sensors can actually hear these leaks and then report them back through an AMI system. Not only will the utility be able to recover the revenue but it will also help reduce the damage to the customer’s property.
Non-revenue water is a growing concern among water utilities. It is no longer only an issue for utilities in underdeveloped countries, and the issues surrounding non-revenue water are getting closer to home. As energy costs increase, water demand increases and water supply diminishes. The utilities that prepare now will be better equipped to deal with eminent changes in the future.

Mark Patience is the product manager for leak detection at Itron.?

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