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World Water Loss Day: Tracking Portland's Water Loss

Blog Post
December 4th is World Water Loss Day, a day that challenges utilities and water users to look for hidden leaks and make a plan to reduce water losses.
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Celebrate World Water Loss Day

The classic Andy Williams song describes December as the “the most wonderful time of the year.” For us at the Water Bureau, it’s also one of the busiest times of the year. As temperatures drop in the region, older water pipes become more brittle, which means they’re more likely to break and leak. No matter how cold or wet the weather gets, our maintenance and construction crews are quick to find and fix main breaks. However, not all leaks are easy to find or even notice, as some happen underground. This is just one of the ways water can get “lost.”

World Water Loss Day is celebrated on December 4th. This day challenges utilities and water users to look for hidden leaks and make a plan to reduce water losses.

What is water loss?

Main breaks are one of the most common forms of water loss. Even a small main break can result in a lot of lost water.  

Water loss is the difference between the total amount of water produced by a utility and the total amount of authorized water used and recorded by a utility. For the Water Bureau, these uses include using water at homes and businesses, fighting fires, running Benson Bubblers, and many other activities. The bureau tracks all of these uses and compares the total to the amount of water it has produced each fiscal year (June 30 to July 1). The bureau analyzes the difference and sorts it into various water loss categories.

Why is water loss important?

Minimizing water loss is important for all water utilities. Water lost to main breaks or leaks still required chemicals for treatment and energy for transport. If unchecked, even small leaks can create major headaches for the city. Leaks of any size can lead to potholes and damage other infrastructure like sewer systems and transportation networks. Reducing water loss also makes sense from a conservation and sustainability standpoint. At the Water Bureau, we’re committed to using natural resources wisely. As we reduce our water loss, we reduce the amount of water we draw from our watershed and well field.

A man in a bulldozer digs dirt out of the muddy ground
Water Bureau crews drain and excavate a main break for repair. This work is performed rain or shine and early notification of breaks is key to reducing their impact.

What is the Water Bureau doing to reduce water loss?

The bureau’s water loss rate is 14.5 percent of water supplied. This rate is similar to peer utilities’ water loss rates. The bureau is invested in reducing our water loss. For over two decades, we’ve used a water leak survey team to find nonsurfacing leaks (leaks that don’t show up at the ground level). In 2019, we hired a Water Loss Analyst to coordinate our water loss efforts and lead a data-driven approach to reducing water loss.

Here’s what we’ve done so far to better understand and reduce our water loss:

  • We complete a water loss audit and analysis annually. This analysis allows us to prioritize resources and enact the most effective strategies to reduce water loss.
  • We’ve improved our tracking of authorized uses for the water loss audit. Measuring these uses ensures that they are not mistaken to be water loss due to leaks or main breaks.
  • We continue to modernize how we look for leaks, including upgrading equipment and changing staff allocations. Over the next two years, we will conduct a pilot project that uses satellite technology to survey the distribution system for nonsurfacing leaks.

All of this work and analysis will culminate in a Water Loss Action Plan, which will be submitted to the State of Oregon in the spring of 2022.

You can help reduce water loss!

Water Bureau crews drain and excavate a main break for repair. This work is performed rain or shine and early notification of breaks is key to reducing their impact.

We aim to reduce water loss to below ten percent of water supplied. One way you can help is by reporting leaks and other forms of water loss. Sometimes leaks are obvious and look like geysers from the street. But leaks can also be small trickles of water that may seem to come from a crack in the road. Water loss can also occur when someone illegally opens a hydrant, or if someone tampers with or damages a hydrant or other infrastructure.

If you see a possible leak or witness someone tampering with Water Bureau property, please call the Water Bureau Emergency Line at 503-823-4874. This line is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.