A new study of California records shows that Bay Area water providers have been losing about 23 billion gallons of water a year due to aging and broken pipes as the state grapples with an historic drought.
Bay Area water agencies have lost from 3 percent to 16 percent of their treated water due to damaged underground pipes. The bad pipes have leaked enough water annually to meet the needs of 71,000 families for an entire year.
Cities including Antioch, Benicia, Santa Clara, Los Altos and Hayward are among those affected according to 2010 Department of Water Resources records — the latest statewide records available. The leaks, breaks and overflows have cost the East Bay Municipal Utility District 9.2 percent — or 6.028 billion gallons — of its total water production in 2012, the district recently reported.
However, it is difficult to know exactly how much water is being lost due to no mandatory or standard auditing practices for the state’s 362 urban water suppliers.
“If we are to better manage our water resources, we need to know how much water is lost over its distribution system,” state Sen. Lois Wolk said. “Then we need to take cost-effective steps to reduce these losses.”
Wolk, a Democrat who represents Davis, is seeking tougher requirements to report water losses to the state through legislation, Senate Bill 1420.
Unlike visible road and bridge damage, underground water pipe breaks and leaks are often hidden from view as seeping water may go unnoticed for long stretches.
And some reported water losses aren’t all attributed to leaks, expert say. Some are due to faulty meters, data errors, theft and firefighting. Groups, including the American Water Works Association, estimate that replacing and expanding water systems will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years.
For example, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will spend $4.6 billion to replace leaky pipes that carry water from the Hetch Hetchy water system that services more than 2 million Bay Area homes and business.
The new pipes in the project, supposedly designed to withstand a 7.1-magnitude earthquake, is scheduled to be completed by 2016.
And the San Jose Water Co. announced last week a 15 percent spike in monthly bills — as well as unspecified increase next year — to help pay to replace leaky pipes along its 2,400 miles of pipeline. The utility intends to replace 24 miles of pipe every year.