Utility Companies Scrutinize Water Loss

April 14, 2015

In Part 1 of this continuing series, writer William Atkinson examines United Water’s programs and water meter technologies toward shared interests in water management and reducing water loss.

With a focus on water meter accuracy, larger distribution systems, flow analysis as well as water-user education, Atkinson explains United Water’s focus upon sustainability and non-revenue generating programs.

When Water Gets Away By William Atkinson

Methods of tackling water loss vary.

If water utilities were charities, they would be expected to give their water away for free, and if water wasn’t so difficult and expensive to process in the first place to make sure it is safe for human consumption, then it wouldn’t matter if millions of gallons “disappeared” from the system as a result of leaks. However, water utilities are not charities, and water treatment is not an inexpensive process. As a result, it is incumbent upon every water utility to make sure that as little water as possible is lost from its system, and to make sure that every gallon that is provided to customers is properly billed for.

Here, we look at a number of programs that have been incredibly successful in reducing water losses.

United Water
While United Water has always had a commitment to reducing its water losses, the company recently adopted a new initiative focused on sustainability and being environmentally friendly, which, of course, involves keeping water losses to a minimum. “Water is such a valuable resource that we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that non-revenue water is a top priority,” says Lynda DiMenna, manager of United Water New Rochelle-Westchester.

Nick Curcio, United Water’s non-revenue water manager, explains the concept behind the new initiative and the role that non-revenue water management plays in it. “We put a certain amount of water into the system at certain points and get less out on the other end when we bill our customers,” he says. “The difference between those two numbers is what we call non-revenue water—water supplied to the system that does not produce revenue at the customer meter points. There are many ways that water can be lost. We needed to characterize and measure those components before we could take any action aimed at reducing that loss.”

The first step for United Water is to generate and collect information in order to evaluate the nature of any water loss. One effective way to do this is to divide the larger distribution system into smaller, more manageable sectors that can be viewed independently as their own water systems. In this way, United Water created a District Meter Area (DMA) sectorization program for its New Rochelle-Westchester system, dividing it into eight smaller sub¬systems or zones, and then identifying, based on flows entering and exiting the zones, the amount of water that remained in each one of those individual zones. “When we can compare this against our consumption data, it helps us identify zones where water losses are at higher levels, and then we can focus resources on those zones,” says Curcio.

Creating these new zones, of course, required new sector meters to be able to measure water in and between them. “We looked at a number of different vendors, and Siemens Industry had the technology and the support that we were looking for,” says DiMenna. “We found that their technology provided the best accuracy in terms of capturing and measuring every type of flow range that we were expecting at the different sites, including high flow, low flow, and reverse flow.”

In years past, according to Brian Roughan, senior account manager for Siemens, the accuracy of mechanical meters was plus-or-minus 1.5%, which was acceptable at the time. Over time, with build-up, the accuracy decreased even more. “As a result, utilities had to pull these meters out every six months or so to have them calibrated in the lab,” he says. “However, as state requirements came into existence related to water loss, accuracy began to become more important.”

About eight years ago, Siemens came out with a battery-operated magnetic meter that has no moving parts to affect the accuracy of the meter. The stated accuracy rates are between plus-and-minus 0.2 and 0.4%, and, unlike mechanical meters, these meters do not need to be pulled out to be recalibrated. There are two battery options. One is an internal battery that needs to be replaced every six years. The other, and the one that most utilities select, is an external battery that only needs to be replaced every 10 years. “This can be done by field personnel in just a few minutes,” says Roughan.

“United Water became aware of our battery-operated mag meters,” he says. “When they began the zoning project in Westchester, they selected our meters.”

According to Curcio, the accuracy of any meter is dependent on the flow rate that is anticipated through that meter. Generally, the higher the velocity through any meter, the higher the accuracy.

“So, we needed to determine what the range of flows was going to be at each meter site,” he says. “For example, flows in overnight in January tend to be extremely low, as compared to peak usage hours in July and August.”

Once this was determined, United Water began having some discussions with Siemens related to the sizing of the specific meters at each site. “We provided them with flow information at the various sites, and they came back with some accuracy information for different flow ranges and meter sizes at each site,” says Curcio. “We then used our internal criteria to determine what the proper size would be for each meter—one that would fit the flow profile so we could achieve the accuracy we were looking for at that specific site.”

While the project has turned out successful, there were a couple of challenges along the way. “In implementing this project, we didn’t want to impact the capacity of our distribution system, and capacity can be impacted in a number of ways in this type of initiative,” he says.

In Part 1 of this continuing series, writer William Atkinson examines United Water’s programs and water meter technologies toward shared interests in water management and reducing water loss. With a focus on water meter accuracy, larger distribution systems, flow analysis as well as water-user education, Atkinson explains United Water’s focus upon sustainability and non-revenue generating programs.  

When Water Gets Away By William Atkinson

Methods of tackling water loss vary. If water utilities were charities, they would be expected to give their water away for free, and if water wasn’t so difficult and expensive to process in the first place to make sure it is safe for human consumption, then it wouldn’t matter if millions of gallons “disappeared” from the system as a result of leaks. However, water utilities are not charities, and water treatment is not an inexpensive process. As a result, it is incumbent upon every water utility to make sure that as little water as possible is lost from its system, and to make sure that every gallon that is provided to customers is properly billed for. Here, we look at a number of programs that have been incredibly successful in reducing water losses. United Water While United Water has always had a commitment to reducing its water losses, the company recently adopted a new initiative focused on sustainability and being environmentally friendly, which, of course, involves keeping water losses to a minimum. “Water is such a valuable resource that we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that non-revenue water is a top priority,” says Lynda DiMenna, manager of United Water New Rochelle-Westchester. Nick Curcio, United Water’s non-revenue water manager, explains the concept behind the new initiative and the role that non-revenue water management plays in it. “We put a certain amount of water into the system at certain points and get less out on the other end when we bill our customers,” he says. “The difference between those two numbers is what we call non-revenue water—water supplied to the system that does not produce revenue at the customer meter points. There are many ways that water can be lost. We needed to characterize and measure those components before we could take any action aimed at reducing that loss.” The first step for United Water is to generate and collect information in order to evaluate the nature of any water loss. One effective way to do this is to divide the larger distribution system into smaller, more manageable sectors that can be viewed independently as their own water systems. In this way, United Water created a District Meter Area (DMA) sectorization program for its New Rochelle-Westchester system, dividing it into eight smaller sub¬systems or zones, and then identifying, based on flows entering and exiting the zones, the amount of water that remained in each one of those individual zones. “When we can compare this against our consumption data, it helps us identify zones where water losses are at higher levels, and then we can focus resources on those zones,” says Curcio. Creating these new zones, of course, required new sector meters to be able to measure water in and between them. “We looked at a number of different vendors, and Siemens Industry had the technology and the support that we were looking for,” says DiMenna. “We found that their technology provided the best accuracy in terms of capturing and measuring every type of flow range that we were expecting at the different sites, including high flow, low flow, and reverse flow.” In years past, according to Brian Roughan, senior account manager for Siemens, the accuracy of mechanical meters was plus-or-minus 1.5%, which was acceptable at the time. Over time, with build-up, the accuracy decreased even more. “As a result, utilities had to pull these meters out every six months or so to have them calibrated in the lab,” he says. “However, as state requirements came into existence related to water loss, accuracy began to become more important.” About eight years ago, Siemens came out with a battery-operated magnetic meter that has no moving parts to affect the accuracy of the meter. The stated accuracy rates are between plus-and-minus 0.2 and 0.4%, and, unlike mechanical meters, these meters do not need to be pulled out to be recalibrated. There are two battery options. One is an internal battery that needs to be replaced every six years. The other, and the one that most utilities select, is an external battery that only needs to be replaced every 10 years. “This can be done by field personnel in just a few minutes,” says Roughan. “United Water became aware of our battery-operated mag meters,” he says. “When they began the zoning project in Westchester, they selected our meters.” According to Curcio, the accuracy of any meter is dependent on the flow rate that is anticipated through that meter. Generally, the higher the velocity through any meter, the higher the accuracy. “So, we needed to determine what the range of flows was going to be at each meter site,” he says. “For example, flows in overnight in January tend to be extremely low, as compared to peak usage hours in July and August.” Once this was determined, United Water began having some discussions with Siemens related to the sizing of the specific meters at each site. “We provided them with flow information at the various sites, and they came back with some accuracy information for different flow ranges and meter sizes at each site,” says Curcio. “We then used our internal criteria to determine what the proper size would be for each meter—one that would fit the flow profile so we could achieve the accuracy we were looking for at that specific site.” While the project has turned out successful, there were a couple of challenges along the way. “In implementing this project, we didn’t want to impact the capacity of our distribution system, and capacity can be impacted in a number of ways in this type of initiative,” he says. [text_ad] The primary way capacity could be impacted is in what United Water calls “sectorizing” the boundaries, which is the process of ensuring that any flow that crosses between zone boundaries is captured by a meter. “You can’t have any flow crossing boundaries that is unmetered,” says Curcio. “However, it would not be feasible to put a meter at every boundary of every zone crossing.” So, at boundaries that were more critical, the utility elected to place a meter, but at boundaries that were not as critical, it elected to sever one of the boundaries between the two zones with a closed valve. “However, closing some of these boundaries had the potential to impact the flow capacity of the system, specifically our ability to provide fire flow capacity.” The second capacity-related challenge was the potential to reduce meter size too much. “For example, if we have a 16-inch pipe crossing a boundary, we would be nervous to put a four-inch or six-inch meter on that, because that could create a bottleneck in that flow path,” he says. In order to make sure that the utility balanced meter accuracy with being able to retain the capacity of the system, it engaged in some hydraulic modeling work. A second challenge was to make sure that the utility would be able to provide the water quality that customers needed. The age of the water, such as might be created in isolated pockets of old water, needed to be monitored. “So, when we examined the fire flow and capacities, we also examined the water quality,” says DiMenna. Another focus for United Water was education. “Not only did we educate our internal staff on what we were doing and why we were doing it to make sure everyone was on board with it, but we also educated the municipalities and other customers that we were serving,” says DiMenna. [text_ad] Given United Water’s commitment to comprehensive preparation for the project, it has achieved some meaningful impact in terms of identifying existing leakage and making progress in repairs. “In addition, by monitoring the production profile in each zone, we are also able to identify new leakage much faster,” says Curcio. That is, by having smaller zones, the utility is able to spend less time looking for losses, and more time finding and dealing with them. “In addition, because we spent so much time educating our staff, they feel they have a greater part in it,” says DiMenna. “For example, the field staff are now more likely to report possible leaks, because they feel like they are actually making a difference.”

The primary way capacity could be impacted is in what United Water calls “sectorizing” the boundaries, which is the process of ensuring that any flow that crosses between zone boundaries is captured by a meter. “You can’t have any flow crossing boundaries that is unmetered,” says Curcio. “However, it would not be feasible to put a meter at every boundary of every zone crossing.”

So, at boundaries that were more critical, the utility elected to place a meter, but at boundaries that were not as critical, it elected to sever one of the boundaries between the two zones with a closed valve. “However, closing some of these boundaries had the potential to impact the flow capacity of the system, specifically our ability to provide fire flow capacity.”

The second capacity-related challenge was the potential to reduce meter size too much. “For example, if we have a 16-inch pipe crossing a boundary, we would be nervous to put a four-inch or six-inch meter on that, because that could create a bottleneck in that flow path,” he says. In order to make sure that the utility balanced meter accuracy with being able to retain the capacity of the system, it engaged in some hydraulic modeling work.

A second challenge was to make sure that the utility would be able to provide the water quality that customers needed. The age of the water, such as might be created in isolated pockets of old water, needed to be monitored. “So, when we examined the fire flow and capacities, we also examined the water quality,” says DiMenna.

Another focus for United Water was education. “Not only did we educate our internal staff on what we were doing and why we were doing it to make sure everyone was on board with it, but we also educated the municipalities and other customers that we were serving,” says DiMenna.

In Part 1 of this continuing series, writer William Atkinson examines United Water’s programs and water meter technologies toward shared interests in water management and reducing water loss. With a focus on water meter accuracy, larger distribution systems, flow analysis as well as water-user education, Atkinson explains United Water’s focus upon sustainability and non-revenue generating programs.  

When Water Gets Away By William Atkinson

Methods of tackling water loss vary. If water utilities were charities, they would be expected to give their water away for free, and if water wasn’t so difficult and expensive to process in the first place to make sure it is safe for human consumption, then it wouldn’t matter if millions of gallons “disappeared” from the system as a result of leaks. However, water utilities are not charities, and water treatment is not an inexpensive process. As a result, it is incumbent upon every water utility to make sure that as little water as possible is lost from its system, and to make sure that every gallon that is provided to customers is properly billed for. Here, we look at a number of programs that have been incredibly successful in reducing water losses. United Water While United Water has always had a commitment to reducing its water losses, the company recently adopted a new initiative focused on sustainability and being environmentally friendly, which, of course, involves keeping water losses to a minimum. “Water is such a valuable resource that we want to make sure we are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that non-revenue water is a top priority,” says Lynda DiMenna, manager of United Water New Rochelle-Westchester. Nick Curcio, United Water’s non-revenue water manager, explains the concept behind the new initiative and the role that non-revenue water management plays in it. “We put a certain amount of water into the system at certain points and get less out on the other end when we bill our customers,” he says. “The difference between those two numbers is what we call non-revenue water—water supplied to the system that does not produce revenue at the customer meter points. There are many ways that water can be lost. We needed to characterize and measure those components before we could take any action aimed at reducing that loss.” The first step for United Water is to generate and collect information in order to evaluate the nature of any water loss. One effective way to do this is to divide the larger distribution system into smaller, more manageable sectors that can be viewed independently as their own water systems. In this way, United Water created a District Meter Area (DMA) sectorization program for its New Rochelle-Westchester system, dividing it into eight smaller sub¬systems or zones, and then identifying, based on flows entering and exiting the zones, the amount of water that remained in each one of those individual zones. “When we can compare this against our consumption data, it helps us identify zones where water losses are at higher levels, and then we can focus resources on those zones,” says Curcio. Creating these new zones, of course, required new sector meters to be able to measure water in and between them. “We looked at a number of different vendors, and Siemens Industry had the technology and the support that we were looking for,” says DiMenna. “We found that their technology provided the best accuracy in terms of capturing and measuring every type of flow range that we were expecting at the different sites, including high flow, low flow, and reverse flow.” In years past, according to Brian Roughan, senior account manager for Siemens, the accuracy of mechanical meters was plus-or-minus 1.5%, which was acceptable at the time. Over time, with build-up, the accuracy decreased even more. “As a result, utilities had to pull these meters out every six months or so to have them calibrated in the lab,” he says. “However, as state requirements came into existence related to water loss, accuracy began to become more important.” About eight years ago, Siemens came out with a battery-operated magnetic meter that has no moving parts to affect the accuracy of the meter. The stated accuracy rates are between plus-and-minus 0.2 and 0.4%, and, unlike mechanical meters, these meters do not need to be pulled out to be recalibrated. There are two battery options. One is an internal battery that needs to be replaced every six years. The other, and the one that most utilities select, is an external battery that only needs to be replaced every 10 years. “This can be done by field personnel in just a few minutes,” says Roughan. “United Water became aware of our battery-operated mag meters,” he says. “When they began the zoning project in Westchester, they selected our meters.” According to Curcio, the accuracy of any meter is dependent on the flow rate that is anticipated through that meter. Generally, the higher the velocity through any meter, the higher the accuracy. “So, we needed to determine what the range of flows was going to be at each meter site,” he says. “For example, flows in overnight in January tend to be extremely low, as compared to peak usage hours in July and August.” Once this was determined, United Water began having some discussions with Siemens related to the sizing of the specific meters at each site. “We provided them with flow information at the various sites, and they came back with some accuracy information for different flow ranges and meter sizes at each site,” says Curcio. “We then used our internal criteria to determine what the proper size would be for each meter—one that would fit the flow profile so we could achieve the accuracy we were looking for at that specific site.” While the project has turned out successful, there were a couple of challenges along the way. “In implementing this project, we didn’t want to impact the capacity of our distribution system, and capacity can be impacted in a number of ways in this type of initiative,” he says. [text_ad] The primary way capacity could be impacted is in what United Water calls “sectorizing” the boundaries, which is the process of ensuring that any flow that crosses between zone boundaries is captured by a meter. “You can’t have any flow crossing boundaries that is unmetered,” says Curcio. “However, it would not be feasible to put a meter at every boundary of every zone crossing.” So, at boundaries that were more critical, the utility elected to place a meter, but at boundaries that were not as critical, it elected to sever one of the boundaries between the two zones with a closed valve. “However, closing some of these boundaries had the potential to impact the flow capacity of the system, specifically our ability to provide fire flow capacity.” The second capacity-related challenge was the potential to reduce meter size too much. “For example, if we have a 16-inch pipe crossing a boundary, we would be nervous to put a four-inch or six-inch meter on that, because that could create a bottleneck in that flow path,” he says. In order to make sure that the utility balanced meter accuracy with being able to retain the capacity of the system, it engaged in some hydraulic modeling work. A second challenge was to make sure that the utility would be able to provide the water quality that customers needed. The age of the water, such as might be created in isolated pockets of old water, needed to be monitored. “So, when we examined the fire flow and capacities, we also examined the water quality,” says DiMenna. Another focus for United Water was education. “Not only did we educate our internal staff on what we were doing and why we were doing it to make sure everyone was on board with it, but we also educated the municipalities and other customers that we were serving,” says DiMenna. [text_ad] Given United Water’s commitment to comprehensive preparation for the project, it has achieved some meaningful impact in terms of identifying existing leakage and making progress in repairs. “In addition, by monitoring the production profile in each zone, we are also able to identify new leakage much faster,” says Curcio. That is, by having smaller zones, the utility is able to spend less time looking for losses, and more time finding and dealing with them. “In addition, because we spent so much time educating our staff, they feel they have a greater part in it,” says DiMenna. “For example, the field staff are now more likely to report possible leaks, because they feel like they are actually making a difference.”

Given United Water’s commitment to comprehensive preparation for the project, it has achieved some meaningful impact in terms of identifying existing leakage and making progress in repairs. “In addition, by monitoring the production profile in each zone, we are also able to identify new leakage much faster,” says Curcio. That is, by having smaller zones, the utility is able to spend less time looking for losses, and more time finding and dealing with them.

“In addition, because we spent so much time educating our staff, they feel they have a greater part in it,” says DiMenna. “For example, the field staff are now more likely to report possible leaks, because they feel like they are actually making a difference.”

About the Author

William Atkinson

William Atkinson specializes in topics related to utilities and infrastructure.

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