Unauthorized consumption occurs in virtually all drinking water utilities. It typically occurs through the deliberate actions of customers or other persons who take water from the system without paying for it. The nature and extent of unauthorized consumption in a system depends on the economic health of the community and the emphasis that the water utility places on policy and enforcement.
Unauthorized consumption occurs in many ways, including tampering of customer meters or meter-reading equipment, illegal openings of fire hydrants, illicit connections, and sundry other means. Establishing the key features of a good accountability and loss control program—water auditing being foremost—will inevitably uncover situations where unauthorized consumption is occurring.
The water audit should quantify the component of unauthorized consumption occurring in the utility. For first-time water audits, or where unauthorized consumption is not believed to be excessive, the auditor should use the default value of 0.25% of the water supplied value in the water audit. This percentage has been found to be representative of this component of loss in water audits compiled worldwide. For water utilities with well-established water audits, or those believing that unauthorized consumption is excessive, the extent and nature of unauthorized consumption should be specifically identified, as well as policy or procedural gaps that allow water to be taken without payment. The opportunities for water to be stolen from the water utility are functions of individual customers who either cannot or will not pay for the services they are rendered. All utility systems are susceptible to the occurrence of unauthorized consumption, and this occurrence is substantial for some.
A portion of the customers in any community may live with real economic hardship, and the water utility should seek to strike a balance between service provision to this group of customers and enforcement actions against those who can afford water service but choose not to pay. A careful evaluation of utility policy is therefore necessary to operate rationally to stem unauthorized consumption.
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