How Much Water Are We Losing

Throughout the world water losses are occurring at both the end-user's plumbing and the water supplier's distribution piping. Water losses are a universal problem and they do occur in both developed and developing countries.

Water loss is defined as occurring in two fundamental ways:

1. Water lost from the distribution system through leaking pipes, joints, and fittings; leakage from reservoirs and tanks; reservoir overflows; and improperly open drains or system blow-offs. These losses have been labeled real losses.

2. Water that is not physically lost but does not generate revenue because of inaccuracies related to customer metering (under recording customer meters), consumption data handling errors, or any form of theft or illegal use is referred to as apparent losses.

The sum of real and apparent losses plus unbilled authorized consumption is defined as nonrevenue water (NRW) according to the standard International Water Association (IWA) water balance methodology.1

The World Bank estimates that the worldwide NRW volume amounts to 12,839 billion gal/year (48.6 billion m3/year) (Table 2.1) and that the volume of real losses occurring in developing countries alone is sufficient to supply approximately 200 million people. The monetary value of the global annual NRW volume was estimated by the World Bank to amount to $14.6 billion U.S. per year.2 The World Bank states in its report that a high NRW level is normally a surrogate for a poorly run water utility that lacks the governance,

Did you know that the worldwide volume of NRW is approximately 12,893 billion gal?

Real Losses

Apparent Losses



Developed Countries




billion m3/year

Eurasia (CIS)




billion m3/year

Developing Countries




billion m3/year





billion m3/year

Developed Countries




billion gal/year

Eurasia (CIS)




billion gal/year

Developing Countries




billion gal/year





billion gal/year

Table 2.1 Global Water Loss Volumes Estimated by the World Bank

Table 2.1 Global Water Loss Volumes Estimated by the World Bank the autonomy, the accountability, and the technical and managerial skills necessary to provide reliable service to their population.

Another study conducted by the U.N. Environment program estimates that by the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of the world population may be subject to moderate to high water stress. The same study estimates that water withdrawal as percentage of the total water available will rise in the United States from 10 to 20% (as of 1995) to between 20 and 40%.3 This demonstrates the growing stress on water resources globally and in the United States and the urgent need to apply proactive water loss management.

There are more than 55,000 community water systems in the United States alone, which process nearly 34 billion gal water per day.4 Due to the current lack of standard assessment and reporting methods for water losses, it is difficult to quantify the amount of water lost in U.S. distribution systems. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that almost 6 billion gal/day5 of the total 34 billion gal processed a day are approximated to occur as "public uses and losses," with the losses likely much greater than public use for most systems. Inaccuracies or inconsistencies in the reported data also contribute to the difference between the total water delivered and total consumed. The amount of water lost in the United States is more than enough to meet the delivery needs of the 10 largest cities in the United States. This massive waste of resources should be viewed as a considerable concern for the country with the third largest population in the world.

Did you know that many locations in the United States suffer from periodic water shortages, or project a long-term deficit in water supply? Surprisingly, there are no federal regulations governing how much water a supplier can lose!

There are 55,000 community water systems in the United States alone, water losses are suspected to be around 6 billion gal a day!

The amount of water lost in the United States is more than enough to meet the delivery needs of the country's 10 largest cities!

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