Accounting for Every Drop of Water

Published Nov 30, 2020

Behind every drop of water that comes from your tap is a vast and complicated system of technology, logistics, and engineering that ensures you always have water on-demand and at the highest levels of safety and quality. Once your water provider has treated water to safe drinking water standards, it is delivered to homes and businesses. An important part of this process is a complex tracking system for your water utility to account for the billions of gallons they deliver each year.

There is a universal understanding in the water industry that in the process of treating and delivering water, some portion is “lost” over the course of operations. In general, the difference between the volume of drinking water a utility produces and the amount that is actually paid for by its customers is called Non-Revenue Water, or water loss. Non-revenue water losses can be real, physical losses such as leakage from pipes and tanks, or even theft. Water loss can also occur due to accounting issues such as when water gets delivered but never gets counted due to complexities in billing software or aged customer meters that may under-read.

Since the passage of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, Arizona’s largest public and private water providers have been required to keep their water losses below ten percent of their overall water production. Though every utility experiences some level of unavoidable water loss, it is a priority for the AMWUA cities to minimize their Non-Revenue Water. This is evident in the numbers: across the ten AMWUA municipalities, water loss is, on average, around six percent of the total volume of water they produce. This figure is well below Arizona’s regulatory threshold and significantly better than the nationwide average of about 15 percent, which is a remarkable achievement considering that the AMWUA cities deliver water to over 3.5 million people - more than half of Arizona’s entire population. They operate 28 water treatment plants and maintain 18,000 miles of water distribution lines, more than one million water meters, and 135,000 fire hydrants.

To take their water loss control efforts to the next level, the AMWUA cities are currently participating in a Training and Technical Assistance Program funded by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and facilitated by AMWUA staff. The Program is intended to further develop the AMWUA cities’ capabilities to reduce their water loss volumes and expand upon prior Arizona water loss control initiatives. To provide the training and technical expertise, AMWUA has retained the Southwest Environmental Finance Center’s services, a group of utility asset management experts that operates out of the University of New Mexico.

Days after the first water loss training was launched at AMWUA earlier this year, in-person meetings were halted in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless,AMWUA and its partners have smoothly transitioned to a remote virtual environment and have conducted ten training sessions and countless hours of individualized instruction to date. The AMWUA cities have already seen benefits from the Program, such as identifying data gaps, finding opportunities for process improvement, and spurring broader coordination across utility departments. As the Training & Technical Assistance Program continues into next Spring, the AMWUA cities will continue to further refine their measurement and evaluation of water loss.

The AMWUA Water Loss Training & Technical Assistance Program is a win for Arizona. The Program was made possible through the foresight of ADWR and their willingness to support state-of-the-art management approaches for our water resources and infrastructure. It also highlights the AMWUA cities’ commitment to continually improve upon their water efficiency efforts despite already being well below the national average for water loss. Now, with World Water Loss Day taking place this week, it is an ideal time to highlight the Program’s advancement to date and look forward to continued progress in the upcoming year.

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit .

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