The State of Water Loss in Kentucky and Tennessee

Submitted by ksandino on Tue, 04/30/2019 - 15:30

In a report published in the spring 2019 issue of Straight from the Tap, David Osborne, PE, discusses the state of water loss -- also known as non-revenue water -- in Kentucky and Tennessee. Straight from the Tap is a publication of American Water Works Association Kentucky/Tennessee Section.

2018 saw an increase in focus and attention on water loss within Kentucky and Tennessee. With emerging regulatory requirements and rising production costs, water professionals in Kentucky and Tennessee are turning their focus to water auditing and water loss. Procedures and metrics used to determine water loss vary significantly between the two states, and there is a need for increased education, knowledge and use of best practices in measuring and reporting water loss.

Background & Educational Workshops

The Non-Revenue Water Committee of the KY/TN Section of AWWA has made it a priority to share resources and knowledge with all members and utilities. In each of the last two years, non-revenue workshops have been hosted in Frankfort, KY, to help accomplish this objective. In November 2018, more than 50 utility representatives, consultants, experts, and regulators attended the workshop. The workshop included presentations on a wide spectrum of water loss topics including district metering areas (DMAs), an overview of the AWWA water audit methodology, apparent loss vs real loss, and utility case studies. A constant discussion item at these workshops is the difference in calculating and reporting water loss between the two states and among regulated and non-regulated utilities in Kentucky.

Calculating & Reporting Water Loss

As of January 2013, all Tennessee water utilities have been required to use the AWWA Free Water Audit Software and Reporting Worksheet annually. This legislative change has created a uniform platform across Tennessee where water loss is effectively calculated on a consistent basis and validity scores are provided to assure the quality of information reported. In Kentucky, only those water utilities governed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) are required to track their water loss in terms of unaccounted-for-water and this method allows for estimation of water volume lost with flushing, main breaks and tank overflows to meet a regulatory requirement in rate making.

Recently, the 2019 Kentucky ASCE report card cited water loss as an area of needed improvement, as the statewide water loss average is 24 percent, which is higher than the national average of 16 percent reported in 2013 by the EPA. Some small water utilities in Kentucky have reported water loss rates that exceed 60 percent.

In Tennessee, according to 2017 data, only 7.2% of utilities exceed the regulated limit of 20% non-revenue water as a percent by cost of operating system. However, some Tennessee utilities have reported non-revenue water rates by cost of operating system that exceed 70%. 

Reducing Water Loss: New Reporting Tools, Development of Best Practices & Pilot Programs

As a result, there is now an increased and refined focus on water loss within Kentucky. Just recently in December 2018, the Kentucky PSC requested input on a new Monthly Water Loss Report form (PSC Case No. 2018-00394). Additionally, a new Water Loss Committee has been established under the Kentucky Drinking Water Advisory Council to explore best practices in reducing water loss.

There has also been preliminary discussions on the pursuit of an AWWA water loss pilot in Kentucky and Tennessee. Similar pilots have had success in other states such as Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. Goals of state pilot programs include strengthening the understanding of the AWWA M36 water audit methodology, engagement with a third-party evaluating data and system efficiency, and to define next steps in water loss management.

Common utility feedback across all programs is that the training and technical assistance equipped them to reliably track their water losses using the AWWA Free Water Audit Software and use it as a tool to guide informed decisions about water loss management practices and cost justifications. Many participating utilities noted that they had plans to implement some change in their practices and policies as a direct result of the pilot. For many utilities, these pilots are the first step in establishing a cost-effective water loss management strategy.

Water loss is a growing concern for all water utilities in Kentucky and Tennessee. As mentioned herein, rising costs of production and emerging regulatory requirements will increase the need for knowledge, training and best practices in the area of water loss and water auditing.