After agriculture and industry, the domestic/municipal sector is the other heavy user of water in society.
There’s also key ways we might be wasting and losing water in the municipal sector.
In this guide, we look at ways we might use water more sustainably and efficiently in this area.
Summary – Using Water Efficiently & Sustainably For Municipal Use
- Globally, on average, 11% of all fresh water withdrawals are for municipal use (for households and public services). Although, that % can differ from country to country
- Using water more efficiently and sustainably involves looking key trends for water use, water waste, water loss and leaks, and so on
- In the municipal sector, sustainable water solutions can be complex, and will need to be customized to geographically local conditions and factors. But, there’s a number of key things we might focus on for more efficient and sustainable water use …
- Managing and reducing water leaks and water loss from public supply pipes and public water infrastructure – better leak detection and prevention (via software, cameras, and other technology), upgrading pipes, building water infrastructure with leaking and durability in mind, and so on. Although – like food waste and loss, there should be acceptance that only a certain portion of lost or wasted water is recoverable or preventable
- In some countries and regions, water theft, metering inaccuracies, and unmetered authorized consumption are problems at the public water pipe level too
- On the individual and household level – direct and indirect water use become more sustainable by focussing on the water footprint of the foods we consume and reducing food waste, but also by being more sustainable with the products and services we use and consume, and being more efficient with direct water use around the house (with taps, washing machines, showers, toilets, and so on). Fixing water leaks around the house will also help, as well as using water efficient appliances and devices. There’s also the indoors and outdoors water use to consider (such as watering and sprinkler systems for gardens and lawns)
- In terms of public services, more efficient irrigation and sprinkler systems will help, and in non residential buildings, many of the same water sustainability methods can be used from the residential sector (water efficient devices and appliances, reducing water leaks in buildings, and so on)
- We’ve also listed the different ways to sustainably manage and use water that can be applied generally across each major sector in society
Why It’s So Important To Use Water Efficiently & Sustainably
Some of the main reasons include, but aren’t limited to:
- We need water for a range of critical uses in society
- The effects associated with water quantity related issues can be severe in water scarce and water stressed regions
- Unsustainable water use contributes to global water problems
How Much Water Do We Use For Municipal Use?
Each country, region and city in the world will use water in different ways and in different shares across the sectors.
Where Do We Use & Waste The Most Water Domestically & At The Household Level?
- Leaking from broken or leaky public supply pipes (in the ground) is one of the main causes of water loss and waste to households and building BEFORE the water reaches a dwelling
- Leaking taps/faucets, pipes and toilets in houses, dwellings and buildings is a major cause of water loss INSIDE houses
- In developing countries like parts of India, water theft is an issue from public supply pipes
A significant amount of water is lost prior to getting to houses. It’s lost in the supply networks like water pipes due to leaks and other factors.
Consider these numbers:
- In 2015…46bn litres of drinking water are lost globally every day … This might be due to aging networks which haven’t been properly managed, metering inaccuracies, theft or unmetered authorised consumption
- In the UK in 2018… they were losing the equivalent to 20 million people’s water usage every day [due to problems with water infrastructure]
- In the UK, in 2017… 20% of all water leaks out before it even reaches homes
- In Western Australia in 2014… Undetected leakage from pipes accounts for most of the recoverable water loss from the water supply network
As individuals …
We use about 3800 litres of visible and invisible water a day on a household level and in our daily life
Of that 3800 litres, it’s split into the following components:
- We use about 137 litres of domestic water in the home every day (the water used on taps, toilets, showers, etc.)
- We use about 167 litres of industrial water a day (the products we use – desks, chairs, computers, tv’s etc all have water footprints required to make them)
- The water used to produce the food we eat adds up to about 3496 litres a day (the food we eat). Also note that wasted food will contribute to this water footprint.
Consider this about the type of diet you eat:
- The average daily water consumption of a meat-eating person is 5000 litres of water per day. The average for a vegetarian is 2500 litres
How We Might Use Water More Efficiently & Sustainably Domestically & On The Household Level (Potential Solutions)
- Water is used at both the household and public service levels, but there is also a process to extract, treat, transport and deliver water to buildings and public service locations. So, increases in water sustainability can be achieved both before and after water is delivered to it’s end use
- With public water supply pipes and delivery of water – some minimum amount of water loss, leakage and waste is inevitable due to various reasons (such as it being difficult or extremely costly to access and upgrade or maintain pipes in certain locations in cities). So, this minimum expected amount should be clearly calculated and be made transparent to the public, as well as the amount of water that is realistically detectable and recoverable
- Building new public supply water pipes with durable materials, and anti leak construction
- Upgrading existing, old, or broken public supply water pipes that are leaky, or haven’t been maintained properly
- Better monitoring and managing of public supply water pipes to detect leaks faster, and allow faster repair responses (such as sensors, leak detection software, and so on). Pressure management is also something that can be better implemented and monitored in pipes with intelligent water pumps, and so on
- Addressing water waste and leaks at water treatment plants
- Better water management by water companies with better tracking, auditing and monitoring programs for the water they provide
- More transparency to the public of top offending water utility companies when it comes to water leaks, loss and waste, and more accountability to fix these problems
- Some countries have to address metering inaccuracies, water theft, and unmetered authorized consumption from their public supply pipes
- At the public services level, water can be used more efficiently by upgrading to more efficient irrigation and sprinkler systems for example when watering public parks, reserves, sports fields, and so on. Water leaks in these systems should also be fixed
- At the household level, leaks should be fixed (from pipes, faucets, toilets, and so on)
- Water efficient devices and appliances can be used in households (dishwashers, washing machines, shower heads, taps, etc.)
- People can use their appliances and devices in a way that is water smart e.g. by only washing full loads of dishes or clothes and not partial loads, running hoses or taps unnecessarily, and so on
- People in hot, dry and windy climates can be more considerate about water use outside the house, and in the garden or back yard
- People with sprinkler and lawn irrigation systems can make efforts to use water more efficiently, at the right times of the day, fix leaks, and maintain their sprinklers and irrigation systems
- People may consider growing less water hungry lawns and plants in their gardens
- Developing regions of the world have to address their basic water and sanitation problems before they can focus on better water sustainability in the municipal sector
- Corporations, governments, and utilities all need to work together to address water supply side water loss and waste – the burden can’t just fall on one or two of the parties
Other solutions might include …
- In America (2014 stats)…
- [Note – water savings can also lead to cost savings]
- We can all use at least 20 percent less water by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances [WaterSense and ENERGY STAR are examples]
- The average family can save 13,000 gallons of water … per year by replacing all old, inefficient toilets in their home with WaterSense labeled models.
- Replacing old, inefficient bathroom faucets and aerators with WaterSense labeled models can save [water and money]
- Replacing shower heads with WaterSense labeled models can reduce the average family’s water and electricity costs by $70 and can save the average family more than 2,700 gallons of water per year, equal to the amount of water needed to wash 88 loads of laundry.
- [These changes can pay for themselves in as little as 1 year]
- Replacing a standard clock timer with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller can reduce an average home’s irrigation water use by 15 percent and can save an average home nearly 7,600 gallons of water annually.
- [Fixing household water leaks ]
- [Running the dishwasher only when it’s got a full load]
- [Turning off taps when you aren’t directly using them]
- [Filling up the sink when washing the dishes by hand, instead of letting the tap run constantly]
- [Being mindful of using water outside in hot and dry climates]
- [Being mindful of the amount of water outdoor lawns and vegetation can use]
- [Using efficient and water smart irrigation methods and systems outdoors]
- [Maintaining and properly operating irrigation systems]
- [In California especially, fixing leaky pipes and faucets in homes could help minimise water waste and loss]
- [Maintaining aging water networks which haven’t been properly managed]
- [In new cities or new builds of water networks – ensure construction materials and construction techniques have longevity and performance in mind]
- [Ensuring water metering is accurate]
- [Address the root causes of water theft, and unmetered authorised consumption, and work to solve these problems]
- [Have targets in place for water regulation companies in regards to water loss reductions]
- Newer cities might have better rates of loss as well, like in the US where most distribution systems are younger than 100 years. These systems “may have less loss due to improved materials of construction and better construction techniques”
- In the UK, OfWat, which is responsible for regulating water usage, has targets in place which water companies must meet as regards water loss reductions.
- Active leakage control and pressure management, Maintaining stable pressure in pipes within a distribution network “has proven to have a positive and immediate effect on reducing the water loss.”
- Technologies like intelligent water pumps and distributed sensor systems for leak detection offer great opportunities for efficiency improvements.
- [Water audit programs like those offered by the American Water Works Association can help minimise water loss]
- [Information to track in water programs might include major forms of water consumption and water loss encountered in drinking water utilities. It might also include a set of rational performance indicators that evaluate utilities on system-specific attributes such as the average pressure in the distribution system and total length of water mains]
- [Helping developing regions of the world move past having to focus on improving basic water access and hygiene, and being able to focus on water leaks and loss. NGO and community group involvement is essential for improving water access and hygiene in developing countries]
- [Getting corporations, government and utilities to work together to manage water loss]
- [Governments and agencies can challenge or incentivize major water companies to improve their infrastructure to reduce water loss]. For example, in the UK, The Environment Agency challenged major water companies to improve their infrastructure as it said they were losing the equivalent to 20 million people’s water usage every day.
- Challenges can also be set for individuals to be more efficient with water use]. … the average person gets currently gets through 140 litres in 24 hours.
- [Apart from waste from leaks in water infrastructure and in homes, solutions can focus on waste in treatment plants]
- [So, water efficiency, as well as water waste and loss are the main areas to focus on to save water]
- [The energy we use for our homes could make a difference – we could choose more water efficient forms of energy generation like natural gas, or renewables]
- [Focus on addressing water that leaks before it reaches homes]
- [Focus on the water companies that leak the most water from their mains compared to national averages, and in total volume]
- [Consider if large scale mains replacements are worth it, even considering how disruptive they can be, and how busy the roads are under which they are located, and also how hard they can be to reach i.e. do we accept the water is going to leak and find another solution?]
- [Consider penalising worst offending water leaking water companies, and crediting or incentivising those who leak the least
- Companies can achieve reduced leakage this through embracing new leak-detection technologies and more innovative ways of working
- In 2015, researchers from Nottingham Trent University demonstrated that drones equipped with infrared cameras could be used to detect leaks in water pipe systems.
- [Understand recoverable water loss vs unrecoverable water loss]
- [Understand that water loss can’t be completely eliminated, and understand what the lowest achievable levels of water loss are in each city or town or region based off of assessments and calculations]
- [Focus on better detection of leakage from water pipes in water supply networks]
- [Track the amount of water supplied in pipes vs metered consumption vs water physically lost]
- [A] water corporation’s primary initiative to manage leakage from pipes [can be a] leak detection program. [In Western Australia, a leak detection program] has run for three years and uses specialist personnel with electronic and acoustic equipment to detect leakage from reticulation pipes. The specialist personnel report information back through Water Corporation’s document management system, and where relevant, repairs are made.
- Pipe replacement is an aspect of managing water loss, along with initiatives such as leak detection, pressure management and the speed and quality of repairs.
As Individuals …