Leaks an Untapped Opportunity for Water Savings

Before a drop of treated water in California ever reaches a consumer’s faucet, about 8% of it has already been wasted due to leaks in the delivery system. Nationally, the waste is even higher, at 17%. This represents an untapped opportunity for water savings, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. 

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first large-scale assessment of utility-level water loss in the United States. It found that leak reduction by utilities can be the most cost-effective tool in an urban water manager’s toolkit, provided utility-specific approaches are used. 

“When I first heard about ‘leaks’ I thought it sounded boring, but leaks are a huge component of our water systems and have a larger opportunity than many other water-saving methods to make an impact,” said lead author Amanda Rupiper, a postdoctoral scholar with the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency. “As the first state to regulate its water losses, a lot of eyes are watching California, and this is an opportunity to impact policy here and elsewhere.”

Amid a multiyear drought, the passage of Senate Bill 555 in 2015 made California the first in the nation and among the first in the world to require water utilities to regulate their water losses.

Be Specific

Using data from more than 800 utilities across California, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, the authors characterized water losses across the country. They developed a model to assess the economically efficient level of losses, and used that model to compare various water loss regulations and modeling approaches.

The study found that one-size-fits-all approaches to leak management are not effective, economical or equitable for utilities, which vary in size and resources. Uniform approaches could lead to the mismanagement of urban water losses. However, applying utility-specific performance standards can deliver a similar amount of water savings at a profit for both utilities and society.

“Regulations that impose a uniform standard across all utilities will result in water reductions that are too stringent in some cases, too relaxed in others, and too costly overall,” the paper concludes.

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Evaluating Water Loss Performance Standards – An Economic Leak Loss Reduction Model

The UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency (CWEE) developed an economic optimal leak loss model and performed a study using water utility data from four different states to evaluate the results of the CWEE model and others* (including the State Water Board’s current model). CWEE recently performed a similar assessment tailored for California by comparing economic models using California utility data only. Attend this public webinar to learn about the UC Davis Economic Optimum model and how it compares to the proposed California model.

The purpose of this webinar is to inform stakeholders in the water loss space about the findings of CWEE’s research. This topic is relevant to California utilities and policy makers and will provide data driven science for stakeholders to consider during the upcoming Water Loss Performance Standards rulemaking by the SWRCB. This webinar will be followed up by 1-2 shorter webinars open to the public to provide more in-depth question and answer sessions.


* This work is currently in the peer-reviewed publication process. Learn more about the study and review a related publication here: https://cwee.ucdavis.edu/research/economic-leak-loss-model/


  • Amanda Rupiper, Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UC Davis
  • Katrina Jessoe, Associate Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Davis
  • Ellen Bruno, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, UC Berkeley
  • Frank Loge, Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, UC Davis

Please reach out to Kendra Olmos at kcolmos@ucdavis.edu for additional information about this webinar.

Saving Water Saves Energy and Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Conserving water goes beyond just saving water; it plays a vital role in conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This is one of the main conclusions of a landmark study conducted by UC Davis in collaboration with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, shows that customer-focused water conservation programs are just as cost-effective (and in some cases, are more cost-effective) as energy efficiency programs in reducing electricity use, GHGs and other energy-intensive operations.

“In California we use about 20% of statewide electricity and 30% of non-power plant natural gas to move, treat, and heat water,” said author Edward Spang, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Food Science and Technology Department and the Center for Water-Energy Efficiency. “Using LADWP as a case study, we wanted to examine the energy savings secured through water conservation programs relative to energy efficiency programs.”

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