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Lost water: Leaky pipes and leaky accounting systems

We’ve been seeing quite a lot of attention lately going to the topic of water loss – either from actual leaks in aging pipes or accounting issues that cut into water revenue. The Atlanta City Auditor’s office has a water loss audit coming up  and in Kansas City, a largely unpublicized 2015 audit undertaken by the city water services department just resurfaced, thanks to an open records request filed by Flatland, a digital magazine in Kansas City.

According to information pulled from the audit by Flatland, Kansas City pumped 28 billion gallons of water into its distribution system in 2015, but a third of those gallons were lost, through water theft, broken meters, leaks, or other reasons. Because of the significant water loss problem in Kansas City, the article says the audit found about 40 percent of the water pumped into the distribution system does not generate revenue.

Kansas City Water Services has been working hard to resolve both the city’s leaky pipes and its leaky water accounting systems. Getting better, more accurate data, is one key.

Real water loss is a particular problem in areas that have older infrastructure. The New York State Comptroller’s Office came out with a report this month that looked at the state’s challenges with aging water infrastructure. The report noted that its audit of local water systems have identified “excessive water loss” both from leaks and water main breaks. In New York City, where some of the water infrastructure was put in place in the mid-19th Century, between 350 and 600 water main breaks have occurred annually between 1999 and 2015, according to the comptroller’s report.

Several audits have pinpointed problems with water meter inaccuracy, including one in Austin in 2015. Water lost to inaccurate meters does not mean that actual water is leaking, but that water to some citizens may be under-counted putting upward pressure on rates. Accounting issues were also the target of an Inspector General audit in Chicago in 2015.


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