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While vacationing in Mexico last month, I met a friendly Canadian from Calgary who—among general conversations about the sunny weather and great food—happened to mention that there are a number of areas in Alberta where there is no water metering in place and rates are based on an average annual consumption.
I will not be too quick to pass judgment from a casual conversation, as Alberta has various water conservation programs in place. For example, the Alberta Municipal Water/Wastewater Partnership has a water conservation initiative under which municipalities may be subject to a 10% reduction in grants if they do not meet the necessary criteria. However, I couldn’t help but reflect on the difference between water-rich and water-stressed areas.
Metering is the best possible way for municipalities and customers alike to monitor their water consumption. Metering provides valuable knowledge of customer use patterns, aids municipalities in demand management programs and allows for accurate billing.
In addition, the process helps promote water conservation at the consumer level. When customers receive a bill clearly explaining their usage patterns, it allows them to track and adjust their water consumption.
One of the basic requirements for the implementation of a water conservation program is to understand how customers currently use water and assess how the water utility tracks and maintains its system. This information allows water utilities to evaluate possible water conservation opportunities and identify the public’s existing behaviors in order to develop and implement an effective program.
Accurate metering also allows utilities to track the volume of water loss in their systems. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the amount of water lost from aging water distribution systems is 1.7 trillion gal per year, at a national annual cost of $2.6 billion.
With an ever-widening funding gap for investment, operation and maintenance of our drinking water infrastructure—approximately $263 billion, according to the U.S. EPA—it is important that utilities lead by example and set the right metering and leak detection technologies in place. Take, for instance, an effective water audit, which determines the amount of water lost from a distribution system due to leakage and the cost of this loss. This helps utilities gain a detailed profile of the distribution system and water users. This is not only an important step toward water conservation, but it can also save utilities a significant amount of money.
Funding, after all, is likely to remain a pressing issue. With effective metering on their side, utilities can prevent unnecessary spending.