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Buildings and Cities

Water Distribution

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Pumping water from source to treatment plant to storage and distribution requires enormous amounts of energy. Utilities use the phrase “non-revenue water” to describe the gap between what goes into a municipal water system and what ultimately comes out the tap. The World Bank calculates that 8.6 trillion gallons are lost each year through leaks, split roughly in half between high- and low-income countries.

Producing billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity to pump water through breaks in the world’s water-distribution networks—rather than into homes or businesses—is expensive. It also produces unnecessary emissions. By minimizing leaks and losses, both energy and water are saved.

Improving the efficiency of water distribution largely depends on management practices. The torrential bursts that cut off service and submerge streets are not actually the worst from a waste perspective: They demand attention and immediate remediation. The bigger problem is with smaller, long-running leaks that are less detectable. Vigilant, thorough detection and speed to resolution are key.

Addressing leaks requires financial investment, but doing so is the cheapest way to source new supply and serve growing urban populations. Those same practices make municipal water systems more resilient to water shortages.

Technical summaries for each solution will be available May 1, 2017.

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