Mar 28, 2013

New Proposal Pushes National Water-Saving Measure

NRDC and major water utilities submit proposal to tackle the waste of water from low-level leaks

Natural Resource and Defense Council AWWA Accuracy Standars Low-Level Water Leak

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a groundbreaking partnership with utilities from across the nation including: Austin Water Utility, San Antonio Water System of Texas and American Water, the nation's largest publicly traded water and wastewater utility company, with the support of East Bay Municipal Utility District of California and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, submitted a proposal to the American Water Works Assn. (AWWA) to revise national accuracy standards for new water meters to tackle the unnecessary waste of water from low-level leaks. The AWWA is the national non-profit organization that publishes standards for mechanical water meters used to measure customer water usage.

More than 1 trillion gal of water leak from U.S. homes each year and 10% of homes have leaks that waste 90 gal or more per day, often unbeknownst to homeowners, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program. This first-of-its-kind proposal with utility agencies aims to address this issue by ensuring that new water meters are capable of accurately measuring extended low flows, which can be indicative of hidden and excessive leaks. Accurate meters provide a financial signal to customers on their consumption, delivering an incentive to fix leaks by alerting them with a water bill that reflects both intentional usage and potentially unknown usage due to leaks.

Current AWWA standards need to be improved to keep up with today’s water meter technology. The minimum flow rates at which meters are required to be tested have not changed since the first AWWA standard for cold-water meters was proposed in 1921. Today, a water meter commonly installed in a new single family home is only certified to be accurate for flows down to 1/4 gal of water per minute. A continuous flow of 1/4 gal per minute is equivalent to 360 gal per day. Lower flows, such as those from a dripping faucet, a running toilet or a leaky irrigation system, may run for days, weeks or months at levels below 1/4 gal per minute, and not be fully recorded—or recorded at all—by water meters. Consumers can lose 100 gal a day or more from unrecorded or under-recorded leakage. This type of water waste contributes to higher bills for all consumers as utilities recover the cost of these water losses through higher and more frequent rate increases.

The NRDC proposal tackles unwarranted waste of resources from water leaks by enhancing AWWA meter performance requirements and test methods to arm water suppliers with improved technology to measure and charge for the water they produce while helping customers identify low flows, stop unnecessary leakage, and save water.

NRDC and its utility partners are proposing revisions to AWWA standards for three of the most common meter types: positive displacement, single-jet and multi-jet. The proposal lays out a “leak detection flow test,” whereby each of the specified meter types would be required to meet an accuracy of at least 80% for meter registration at “leak detection test flows” for each meter type and size. Generally the leak detection test flows are only 25% of the current AWWA minimum test flows. The proposal allows a representative sample of meters to be tested, which will help manufacturers minimize the cost of conducting another test.

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