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Drinking water utilities are challenged by deteriorating infrastructure, growing customer expectations, new regulatory requirements, and a changing climate. Recognizing that “what gets measured gets managed”, water utilities rely on performance indicators that are “actionable” to drive improvements in their operations.

AWWA, 2019

Non-revenue water (NRW) refers to water that is produced and lost before it reaches the end consumers or customers, resulting in financial and resource losses for water utilities. NRW can occur due to various reasons, such as leaks, pipe bursts, unauthorized consumption, inaccurate metering, and inefficient management practices. The impacts of NRW on Canadian municipalities can be significant and encompass both economic and environmental aspects.

Financial Losses: NRW leads to significant financial losses for water utilities. When water is lost before it reaches consumers, utilities are unable to bill for that water, resulting in lost revenue. These financial losses can impact the overall sustainability and financial viability of the utilities, potentially leading to increased water rates or reduced investment in infrastructure and service improvements.

Increased Operational Costs: Managing and maintaining water distribution systems with high NRW levels require additional resources and investments. Utilities need to allocate funds for leak detection and repair programs, infrastructure upgrades, and enhanced metering systems. These increased operational costs can strain the budgets of municipalities and may require reallocation of funds from other essential services.

Resource Utilization: NRW represents a waste of water resources, which is especially critical in regions facing water scarcity or drought conditions. Canada, despite its abundant water resources, has certain regions that experience water stress and scarcity issues. NRW exacerbates the pressure on water sources, impacting the availability and reliability of water supply for both domestic and industrial users.

Environmental Impact: NRW has environmental consequences. The energy used for water treatment and distribution is wasted when water is lost through leaks and other means. This results in unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to climate change. Additionally, the extraction and treatment of water put pressure on ecosystems, and when water is wasted, it represents an inefficient use of those resources.

Infrastructure Sustainability: NRW can indicate underlying issues with aging infrastructure. Water losses often occur due to leaks and pipe bursts, which can be indicative of deteriorating infrastructure. Addressing NRW requires investments in infrastructure upgrades, including pipe replacement and rehabilitation, which is crucial to maintain the long-term sustainability and reliability of water systems.

Customer Satisfaction: High NRW levels can lead to service disruptions, lower water pressure, and water quality issues for consumers. Customers may experience more frequent water outages and reduced water availability during peak demand periods. This can negatively impact customer satisfaction and trust in the municipal water services.

To mitigate the impacts of NRW, Canadian municipalities need to implement strategies such as leak detection and repair programs, infrastructure upgrades, improved metering and billing systems, and public awareness campaigns. By reducing NRW, municipalities can enhance their financial sustainability, conserve water resources, improve service reliability, and promote environmental stewardship.

Luckily, technological development and increased knowledge about the distribution network provide new possibilities for reducing water loss.

Manufacturers, such as Kamstrup, have now added acoustic leak detection into every water meter. Not only will these next generation digital water meters hear any leaks within a house or business, but they listen to the service lines and water mains too. With all endpoints listening, you can map out a vivid picture of any leaks in the water distribution pipework too.

Smart metering lights up your distribution network and is a constant source of information about what goes on. Having the right knowledge at the right time makes it much more efficient and much easier to reduce Non-Revenue Water – for the benefit of the environment, the consumers and the utility’s bottom line.

About the Author:

Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 40 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was a senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin served on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).  He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.  He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has completed over 30 next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, Indigenous Canada awareness, and more.