The Current Regulatory Structure for Water Loss Management

The structure of the U.S. drinking water industry is highly fragmented, both in ownership and organizational oversight. The regulatory structure varies from state to state, with many water utilities falling under the auspices of two or more regulatory agencies that may include government environmental agencies, public utility commissions, river basin commissions, water management districts; as well as one or more federal agencies. Other important stakeholder organizations, such as county conservation districts, planning commissions, and watershed associations may also be party to the input and discussion about water resources management.1

In the late twentieth century, significant federal governmental involvement created extensive water quality legislation and rules for clean streams and drinking water. Conversely, federal requirements for auditing water delivery and customer consumption have historically existed with only minimal structure and degree of impact.

Considerable concern has grown for the need to replace aging infrastructure and identify appropriate funding mechanisms. Yet the scope of infrastructure needs is often based on projections that don't include improvements from loss reduction. A more modest estimate of national infrastructure needs might be derived if realistic loss reduction and conservation were consistently included in the analysis.

In 2001, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) conducted a comprehensive survey of state and regional water loss standards, policies, and practices entitled "Survey of State Agency Water Loss Reporting Practices."3 The survey report concluded that even though a reasonable number of state and regional agencies hold a water loss policy, targets and standards vary widely from agency to agency. The survey confirmed that the structures in place to monitor drinking water supply efficiency are superficial in nature, of limited sophistication (in most cases "unaccounted for water" percentage is the sole performance indicator), and include scarcely any auditing or enforcement mechanism to validate the performance of drinking water utilities. The study clearly identified that in most cases the agencies do not provide incentives for achieving the required targets nor do they take action for failure of meeting targets. A very important finding of this study was that it is necessary to refine current definitions, measures and standards for evaluating water losses in the United States. The establishment of a uniform system of water accounting, with valid and reliable data, was proposed by this study.

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