National water meter standards sought for revision with major partnership

The Natural Resources Defense Council with major U.S. water utilities seek to revise water meter standards to prevent low-level leak waste.

Mar 27th, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. March 27, 2013 -- The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a groundbreaking partnership with utilities from across the nation including: Austin Water Utility and San Antonio Water System of Texas and American Water (NYSE: AWK), 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 Association (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.

"Water leaks are incredibly common, often lurking unseen in our homes and businesses and wasting an enormous amount of water" said Tracy Quinn, NRDC Water Policy Analyst. "The costs for leaks not captured by meters are passed on to all customers and result in higher rates and more frequent rate increases. We can fix this by ensuring that utilities are supplied with more accurate water meters that can better detect hidden leaks. Stronger accuracy standards will lead to the widespread installation of more accurate meters, and major water savings will follow when homeowners fix leaks identified. At a time when we cannot afford to let a drop go to waste, these water saving measures matter more than ever."

More than one trillion gallons of water leak from U.S. homes each year and 10 percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day, often unbeknownst to homeowners, according to the U.S. EPA'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 gallon of water per minute. A continuous flow of 1/4 gallon per minute is equivalent to 360 gallons 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 gallon per minute, and not be fully recorded -- or recorded at all -- by water meters. Consumers can lose 100 gallons 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 filed 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 percent for meter registration at "leak detection test flows" for each meter type and size. Generally the leak detection test flows are only 25 percent 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.

On the heels of EPA WaterSense's "Fix-a-leak Week" last week, there have been recent efforts to draw attention to common water losses from home and business water leaks and remind Americans to check their plumbing fixtures and irrigation systems to stop leaks. For example, homeowners and businesses can routinely examine faucets and showerheads for drips, and washers and gaskets for wear. All water consumers can ensure tight fixture connections with easy and inexpensive tools like pipe tape and a wrench, and replace the rubber flapper in toilets that run between flushes.

For more information about national water metering standards and leak prevention at home, see:

Joint Proposal to American Water Works Assoc.: http://docs.nrdc.org/water/files/wat_13032601a.pdf
Tracy Quinn’s blog: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/tquinn/hidden_leaks_one_trillion_gallons_wasted.html
Ed Osann’s blog: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/eosann/to_fix_a_leak_you_have_to_know.html
EPA WaterSense’s Fix-a-leak Week: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/fix_a_leak.html

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