Water Loss TAP: The Results Are In

March 30th 2018

Water loss control in California is just beginning, but the Water Loss Technical Assistance Program (Water Loss TAP) has wrapped up. And thanks to the enthusiastic participation of retail urban water suppliers in California, it was a resounding success!

The Water Loss TAP was offered in 2016 and 2017 to support California utilities in complying with new water audit validation and reporting regulations established in California Senate Bill 555 (2015). WSO was selected to execute the Water Loss TAP, in partnership with Cavanaugh. The program was overseen by the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association with funding provided by the State Water Resources Control Board and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Water Loss TAP offered every participating utility two in-person water audit workshops, a “practice” level 1 water audit validation session, and a formal level 1 water audit validation, all at no cost to the utility.

Now that the first round of level 1 validated water audit submission is over, the final numbers are in: the Water Loss TAP was the largest water audit education and validation effort ever conducted.

  • 404 California water suppliers accomplished level 1 water audit validation in Wave 4 of the Water Loss TAP
  • More than 1,500 water utility employees participatedv in Water Loss TAP workshops and phone calls
  • 73 workshops were hosted throughout California (it’s a big state!)

All told, the Water Loss TAP provided the mandatory level 1 water audit validation for 93% of California’s retail urban water suppliers.

The state now has a lot of data that describes water loss in California. The data isn’t perfect - it’s only the first year of water audit submission, and it often takes a few years for an agency to hone in on accurate data describing water loss - but it’s useful to start considering statewide water loss control. Additionally, the State Water Resources Control Board will establish water loss standards by July of 2020, so the data will soon have to be put to use.

The CY2016 and FY16-17 water audits that were level 1 validated through the Water Loss TAP indicate:

  • Median water loss of 34 gallons per service connection per day
  • Median annual apparent (paper) loss valued at $149,000
  • Median annual real (leakage) loss valued at $152,000

Moving forward, the Water Loss TAP set the stage for water loss engagement across California. Through the Water Loss TAP, we learned that:

  • Consistency is key! For level 1 validated water audits to be insightful as a dataset, it’s important that each audit passes through the same methodological, analytic, and validation processes. Otherwise, California will find itself comparing apples to oranges to grapes to bananas in attempting to regulate water loss. As a result, it will be especially important to standardize future level 1 water audit validation (including the qualifications of the validator) and establish quality control measures for analysis and validation.
  • Learning takes time, and that time is worth it. Unfortunately, many regulatory requirements aren’t enacted with enough time and support for necessary learning to take place across the industry. The Water Loss TAP was the exception to this rule - participants were offered free technical support over 18 months and a curriculum that reinforced methodology through repeated exposure. The success of the program speaks to the value of such support, which we hope continues as utilities deepen their engagement with water loss and distribution system management.
  • When data is missing, it’s hard to fill in the gaps with guesses. Many utilities don’t have data describing source meter performance, customer meter performance, and system pressures. There are no “defaults” for these parameters - they vary widely from one utility to the next. Without this information, audits must be viewed as preliminary and subject to marked uncertainty. But such uncertainty can be addressed with the collection of additional data, if resources and expertise are harnessed to close the most impactful data gaps for each utility.

So what now? Another two years of water audit validation and collection before the publication of water loss standards! We will continue to support the California utility community in the process through water audit validation, analytics, source meter testing, and water loss control program design and execution. We’ve also got some thoughts on effective water loss regulation - but that will have to wait for a future post!

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