Buried Treasure: The Economics of Leak Detection and Water Loss Prevention in Ontario
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On average approximately 13% of the water that is withdrawn by Canadian municipal water suppliers is lost before it reaches final users. This is an important topic for several reasons: water losses cost money, losses force water agencies to draw more water from lakes and streams thereby putting more stress on aquatic ecosystems, leaks reduce system reliability, leaks may contribute to future pipe failures, and leaks may allow contaminants to enter water systems thereby reducing water quality and threatening the health of water users. Some benefits of leak detection fall outside water agencies’ accounting purview (e.g. reduced health risks to households connected to public water supply systems) and, as a result, may not be considered adequately in water agency decision-making. Because of the regulatory environment in which Canadian water agencies operate, some of these benefits-especially those external to the agency or those that may accrue to the agency in future time periods- may not be fully counted when agencies decide on leak detection efforts. Our analysis suggests potential reforms to promote increased efforts for leak detection: adoption of a Canada-wide goal of universal water metering; development of full-cost accounting and, pricing for water supplies; and co-operation amongst the provinces to promulgate standards for leak detection efforts and provide incentives to promote improved efficiency and rational investment decision-making.