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BWL lost 644 million gallons of water last year, mostly through leaking pipes and main breaks

Posted at 6:12 PM, Feb 07, 2022

LANSING, Mich. — The Lansing Board of Water and Light lost about 644 million gallons of water in 2021, mostly through leaking pipes and main breaks.

How that stacks up to other utilities in the region is hard to say. Michigan is one of the states that does not require utilities to report water loss, but experts say it is important to know how much water is being lost to find causes and set a baseline for improvements.

“We estimate we have about 9 percent of water loss or non-billed water annually,” said Amy Adamy, BWL communications manager.

The utility pumped 7.15 billion gallons of water in 2021. A loss of 9 percent equals about 643.6 million gallons. Most of that water is lost through leaks, though the water used for firefighting and water that gets to the consumer but that BWL does not bill for is counted in the same category.. The cost of treating that water is almost $950,000.

“Having zero leakage is not really an attainable goal, every pressurized water distribution system leaks, but some leak a little and some leak a whole lot,” said Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The organization thinks it is important to know how much a water system is losing and recommends that utilities use a free program from the American Water Works Association to report water loss.

“If our water systems are leaking, if they're not efficient, the price of water is going to be more…," said Greg Kail, director of communications for the American Water Works Association. "The price, it always comes back to the customer.”

Adamy said the cost of the lost water is “baked into our rates. And so, customers aren't paying any extra due to that unbilled revenue."

“We're constantly making repairs," she added, "and we're looking for federal funding to make upgrades to our system to make sure that we're not just losing water anywhere. We've also made major improvements on smart meters. We're almost finished installing all of our smart meters throughout our service territory, that helps solve the problem of meters tending to run a little bit slow. When meters run slow, that's where you can start to see some of that water loss as well.”

Adamy said they have about 2000 smart meters left to install out of 150,000 and anticipate finishing replacing old meters this year.

Last year, state Senator Stephanie Chang, a Detroit Democrat, introduced a bill that would require water and wastewater utilities to publicly report water loss.

“Most other states have an agency that regulates water rates to some degree, maybe not all of them, but some of them. But in Michigan, we don't have anything like that. So, at the bare minimum, we believe that we need to have the information,” Chang said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and American Water Works Association are pushing for utilities to report water loss.

"The thing about utility water loss, it's the responsibility of the utility," Osann said. "I mean, I'm responsible for not wasting water in my own home, but we can't do anything. We have no responsibility for the pipes in the street, we can't do anything about that.”

Adamy said that, "if there's legislation in place, BWL would be compliant in any sort of monitoring of our system."

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