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It’s estimated that a third of all produced drinking water is “lost” before reaching the customer. These losses include theft, tampering, and known usage without invoicing.

Non-revenue water has been a critical issue for many years, yet the amount of non-revenue water isn’t decreasing. This is a huge problem for water networks, consumers, and utilities, yet little action is being taken on the part of utilities to reduce these water losses. 

In a paper titled “Why aren’t Water Utilities taking action on non-revenue water?”, I took an in-depth look at the main reasons for utilities’ inaction and detailed how utilities can overcome the issues that are blocking the progress that can be made. More importantly, I explored the options that are available not only to water utilities, but also governments, private companies, public companies, regulatory bodies, politicians, and consumers that can help solve the problem of non-revenue water. 

Below is a preview of the 12 reasons I believe utilities aren’t taking action on non-revenue water. You’ll also find access to my full paper.

1/ The cost of producing water is so low that it’s not economically viable to take action

While the costs involved in producing water are often claimed to be reasonably low, the true costs aren’t fully understood or calculated accurately by any utility or body. The reality is that the costs involved in water production are not as low as it is often claimed

2/ Reported water losses are already very low

Some water utilities claim water losses as low as 3-7% (in some cases there are claims that 0% of water is lost). In the absence of an independent third party, these claims can only be backed up by measurements that each utility has taken themselves. 

The reality is that no water utility in the world can accurately measure the water losses that occur from extraction to delivery.

3/ There are no collective non-revenue water metrics to achieve

While many utilities have internal objectives, there is a distinct lack of applicable metrics and Key Performance Indicators that relate to the objectives for non-revenue water values.

4/ Politicians and municipalities are very sensitive to water issues

Protests in India and Ireland in recent years have highlighted consumer concerns surrounding the right of access to quality water, and many utilities believe that consumers will complain if actions are taken that will affect them, water becomes too expensive, or they discover the true amount of water being lost.

5/ A lack of government-provided funding to take care of water networks

With insufficient funding to water utilities, the infrastructure has deteriorated which puts many of them at risk. Since governments are generally short-lived, they are often willing to cut funding for issues that they believe won’t occur during their tenure.

6/ A lack of technical knowledge within water utilities

Retired employees in utilities have not been replaced due to a push to reduce costs, meaning that there hasn’t been an injection of the younger generation into the workforce. Plus, due to the conservative nature and average age of the workforce, there has been little incentive for innovation or investment in the water industry.

7/ A lack of competition in the water supply

Consumers are unable to choose another provider, no matter where they are in the world when utilities fail. When there is no competition, there is very little incentive for water utilities to improve.

8/ Water utilities don’t want to challenge the status quo

In many cases, a water utility’s management changes when the government changes. Since this happens every 3 to 5 years, there is little incentive for utilities to fight for improvements.

9/ Water utilities have been privatized and have different objectives

There are many issues surrounding privatization, including the fact that the requirement to turn profits can conflict with the requirement to make long-term investments in assets and infrastructure that will last 50 years in the field and tariffs can increase exponentially due to the private utility’s desire to boost their gross income. These factors shroud the issue of non-revenue water.

10/ A lack of sophisticated water technology

Historically, the conservative nature of the water industry has meant a distinct lack of focus on developing new technology for the water industry. When companies have developed new water technology, utilities have been hesitant to trust and invest in them. 

The lack of new technical knowledge has meant that utilities have never made improvements to non-revenue water.

11/ Regulators aren’t interested in imposing stricter conditions

Water regulators generally do not have much interest in imposing strict conditions and control over water utilities, since this could raise issues that both parties wish to be kept out of the public domain.

12/ A lack of education surrounding water-related issues

The issues surrounding water scarcity due to a rapidly expanding population and the demand to supply everyone with running water have been made more public, and there is now a large focus on this.  

This also creates a focus on the losses that are occurring, but once again, it is difficult for utilities to communicate this without receiving backlash from customers.

Ready to discover the options available to utilities to tackle the issue of non-revenue water?

Until now, little has been done to remedy the amount of “lost” water. As we know, reducing water losses is not only about saving water resources in the face of scarcity, but also about:

  • The reduction of energy utilized to extract, pump, transport, and treat both drinking and waste water
  • The reduction of CO2 that is pumped into the atmosphere due to the energy used to extract, pump, transport, and treat both drinking and waste water
  • The reduction in chemicals used for the treatment of water and waste water
  • The reduction in infrastructure required for the transportation and treatment of both drinking and waste water

By tackling non-revenue water, utilities can boost their efficiency, reduce redundant energy expenses, avoid significant environmental impacts, and decrease their operational costs overall. 

In the full version of this whitepaper, I provide 12 comprehensive solutions to each of the 12 problems detailed above to get utilities to think twice about why they’ve yet to tackle the deep-rooted reasons preventing them from taking action on non-revenue water in their networks.

Gavin van Tonder

About Gavin van Tonder