Water will be the world’s most valuable commodity by the year 2010, more so than food and oil. So said the United Nations in a report issued at the turn of this century. In the U.S., this statement is more apparent in the desert of Las Vegas than in the Finger Lakes Region of upstate New York. But even in areas of plentiful source water, contamination is requiring treatment where none was formerly necessary. Throughout the world, one child leaves through death every six seconds, due to unsafe drinking water.
Do we truly appreciate this resource? Or do we take it for granted?
The American Water Works Research Foundation has stated that $120-800 million in unaccounted for water exists at water works operations in the U.S.
Does this demonstrate accurate resource accountability? Or does it show, for whatever reason, an old fashioned perception on the value of water?
This $120-800 million also represents a very real opportunity for utilities to increase revenue through the recovery of “lost” water.
These two realities necessitate the need for accurate measurement and control of resource usage. The replenishment of watersheds, from which source water is drawn, is not a demand side process. Water withdrawn must be balanced with what nature puts in. State agencies such as the Massachusetts Water Resource Agency oversee this balancing act. The strategy is resource accountability, while the benefit is efficient resource utilization and maximized revenue generation. Finally, the means is accurate metering.
The meter represents the one asset in the entire water works operation, from production to transmission to distribution that facilitates accountability and efficient resource usage. Accurate metering allows an understanding of how much water leaves a treatment facility and how much flows into each and every residential, commercial and industrial user.
The two should approach a balance with a real world offset of ideally 10% or less in unaccounted for water. Much beyond 10% represents lost revenue and a potential disrespect for the resource. Inaccurate meters and leaks are a primary contributor to this lost resource and revenue.
In parallel to accurate metering is the need to read the meters more frequently than is traditionally done. State agencies such as the EPA, DEC, and DOH encourage a transition to monthly reads rather quarterly or bi-annual reads.
The benefit is the early detection of leaks, better resource accountability and more efficient usage. With proven Radio Frequency Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) technologies economically available, more frequent meter reading is readily possible.
For the utility, the AMR frees up scarce and stressed operations personnel for more valuable and welcomed endeavors than walking around with a meter book. For instance, maintaining an aging infrastructure including ancient leak prone service mains and older under-registering meters.
Our industry is full of true water works professionals who fully appreciate the importance of water as resource and revenue. They appreciate the role of the water meter as the “cash register” and means of resource accountability.
Oftentimes it is the local political entities that prevent the water works professional from taking the initiative. Herein lies our challenge of enlightenment—showing the revenue value of accurate metering is a great way to start.