article by Stef Van Der Walt
Self-inflicted water shortage
Water is the most precious resource on earth! Water is the key ingredient to everything, whether it is to grow, manufacture, consumed, clean, or anything else, it cannot be performed without water. Despite 71% of the earth being covered by water, only 3% is fresh water, which can be used for the aforementioned uses. Various technological advancements have been made to utilize the remaining 97% of seawater. Israel among other nations has developed state-of-the-art desalination technologies, which can transform seawater into drinking water. Our focus during this article will however remain at the 3% of freshwater that we have as a planet. We further narrow our investigation beyond wastewater, greywater, or any other untreated water. We focus on drinking water going to waste through leaks, bursts, or any other impaired infrastructure resulting in losses of water, also known as Non-Revenue Water (NRW).
Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is the percentage of water on which municipalities do not generate revenue. Thus, this can be described as water lost through leaks in infrastructure and broken and burst pipes- resulting from negligence in the maintenance of infrastructure, sabotage of infrastructure, and natural disasters among other causes. nevertheless, a lack of maintenance is the main cause.
Repercussions of infrastructure negligence:
When considering the repercussions of burst pipes or leaks, it is important to differentiate between heterogeneous countries. When considering the UK, utilities get very large penalties per liter of water that goes to waste through bursts or leaks. One utility accumulated £32 million in fines over the course of 4 years, for leaks, bursts, and other sewage pollution-related reasons.
Another approach to the costs of non-revenue water is to pass the cost on to the consumer or the end user of the water. Thus, consumers see the price of water as higher than the actual cost of water due to the NRW cost which is incorporated into the total price that consumers pay.
Further, it is essential to note that nothing happens in isolation. Every drop of water that goes to waste, reached the leak or burst pipe through energy-intensive pumps transporting the water over long distances. Thus, if your NRW figure is up to 40%, it means that the utility’s electricity bill is also 40% higher than it should be in the absence of leaks! Further, taxes are also levied on the NRW, increasing the cost of the water.
Therefore, a reduction in the levels of NRW will vastly decrease the cost of water, due to the water and electrical cost encapsulated in the cost of the water. We started this article by emphasizing the importance and the multi-discipline application of water, which entails a reduction in the cost of water that will lead to an increase in the standard of living. Considering the marginal cost of NRW, we examine the current empirical global and regional cost of NRW.
A Global View on Non-Revenue Water (NRW):
The global volume of NRW has been estimated to be 346 million cubic meters per day or 126 billion cubic meters per year. Conservatively valued at only $0.31 per cubic meter, the cost/value of water lost amounts to $39 billion per year (Liemberger & Wyatt:2019). This roughly equates to the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the South American country of Paraguay.
Based on these figures caused by the laxity of maintenance, it is visible that deteriorating water infrastructure is a problem, however, deteriorating infrastructure is not an exclusive phenomenon. Water leaks can be observed on all continents. NRW in North America accumulated between 20% and 30% (Xylem: 2022). NRW in China, adds up to 20%, whereas in Western Europe averages between 10% and 40% (AVK:2017).
We observe that NRW is not limited to one country or one continent. Next, in our investigation, we scrutinize Africa. NRW in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is around 14 million cubic meters per day. This totaled an astonishing amount of $1.4 billion per year. As mentioned before, nothing happens in isolation. SSA is already facing vast water limitations. 1 in 3 Africans face water scarcity, this is approximately 400 million people. Reducing the NRW in SSA can already make a substantial difference in the stride to achieving Sustainable development goal (SDG) 6: Clean water and sanitation.
Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is not the eschaton.
Various countries successfully turned around the deterrent. The city of Manilla, the capital of the Philippines, triumphantly reduced its NRW in the city from 63% down to 11% in 16 years. Our second example focuses on the Middle Eastern nation of Israel. Situated in the middle of a desert. Israel is soon to obtain 90% of its water supply through seawater desalination. Further, 80% of wastewater produced by households is recycled. Thus, water is not wasted in Israel. This is further reflected in the total NRW which was reduced by 75% in 6 years, from 8% to 2%.
In conclusion, we review the disruptive Israeli technologies that enabled this vast reduction in NRW:
Aquarius Spectrum – Aquarius Spectrum develop acoustic solutions that enable water utilities to perform proactive monitoring of their underground assets and detect background leaks in their initial stages of development and repair the leaks before they surface and cause serious damage, Aquarius also assess the real condition of the pipes. These solutions are based on sensitive fixed and mobile sensors with advanced correlating algorithms, which can be applied to all types of pipes.
Takadu – TaKaDu’s new predictive maintenance solution facilitates greater efficiency across the network, identifying areas that are not performing as well, and recommending ways to bring them up to standard. By using data from better-performing areas, TaKaDu can assist you to prioritize leak detection surveys and detect faulty assets before they emerge as events in the TaKaDu system.
Utilis – Using algorithms that have been fine-tuned with the power of AI and machine learning to recognize the signatures of water leaking from different systems, Utilis provides likely leak locations as a subscription. Compared to current leak detection services and methods, recover satellite-based leak detection technology not only identifies more leaks, it increases field crew efficiency by up to 400%!
Curapipe System – Curapipe developed the patented Trenchless Automated Leakage Repair (TALR), which is a solution for rapid bulk reduction of unsustainable leakage levels. It is designed to work along with ongoing active leakage management services and works well with installed network pressure reduction systems. Curapipe’s TALR is an internal pipeline leakage repair solution for multiple leaks in water distribution networks. TALR is especially well suited for pipelines with substantial leakage from multiple sources of leaks. TALR is suitable for a wide range of pipe materials and as a standalone system. Once launched into the treated pipe section, it self-detects water leaks and automatically seals and cures them.
Wint – WINT delivers water intelligence solutions intending to allow enterprises to manage their water effectively so they can reduce consumption, eliminate waste, prevent water leak damage, and reduce their environmental footprint. WINT utilizes the power of artificial intelligence, signal processing, auto-shutoff valves, and IoT technologies. The company’s solutions monitor water flows to detect anomalies, leaks, and waste and to deliver real-time insights and alerts when issues are detected.
We conclude this article by referring to the silver lining which exists in the funding of Non-Revenue Water solutions. Leak detection technologies save money from the commissioning of the technology, by less water going to waste. Therefore, instead of losing money due to leaks, you spend that money on technologies that stop leaks, preserve water, and combats water shortages, ultimately contributing positively to the accomplishment of the 6th SDG.