Fine Print: Using Water Audits to Curb Losses in Drinking Supplies

Tom Johnson | February 6, 2017 | Energy & Environment
In a state where up to 30 percent of treated water is lost before it reaches the tap, water audits can be a critical tool

water dripping faucet
What’s going on: The state has a well-recognized problem with an aging drinking-water infrastructure, some of it 100 years old or older. Water-main breaks disrupt service, and occasionally lead to boil-water advisories for customers. On top of that, projections are that between 20 percent and 30 percent of treated drinking water is lost through leaks before it ever gets to a home or business.

Why they’re needed: From many perspectives, including annual rainfall, New Jersey is a water-rich state. Precipitation is plentiful in most years, but as 2016 demonstrated, droughts do occur. Much of the state is currently under a drought warning, demonstrating the system’s vulnerability. Projections of drought deficits in the future point out possible problems in other areas. The state needs to be more conservative in how it manages its water.

What’s being proposed: Bills have been introduced in the Assembly (A-4415), sponsored by Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen) and Senate (S-2926), sponsored by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer), to require water-loss audits of all public and private water companies. The legislation would require companies with 3,300 customers or more to conduct annual water-loss audits. Proponents argue validated water losses are a key step toward achieving cost-effective reductions in these losses. The audits, to be completed no later than 24 months after the bill is enacted into law, would have to be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

What the bill would accomplish: Conducting water audits, routine for most large purveyors, will conserve water and save money for consumers. The audits also could pinpoint areas where purveyors need to fix aging infrastructure.

What the measure will fail to do: The proposed legislation will not provide a stable source of funding that could guarantee some part of the projected $8 billion that needs to be invested in the state’s drinking-water infrastructure over the next couple of decades. A special joint legislative task force on drinking-water infrastructure is examining other problems related to water losses. Coming up with a fiscal solution, however, without spiking water bills, is going to be hard to accomplish in an election year.

What happens next: Look for relatively quick action on the audit bill by the Legislature. It is a commonsense approach to a big problem and is likely to be recommended by the legislative task force.