Sustainable Water Infrastructure

Water Efficiency for Water Suppliers

Only so much freshwater is available for consumption. To keep up with population growth, greater competition of resources, and early signs of climate change, drinking water suppliers need to adopt best industry practices for water efficiency, and new strategies that adjust for changes in water quantity and quality.

From source to tap to the quantity of wastewater we must treat, it is important that we reduce the amount of water we use and manage our use of water more effectively. Drinking water system owners and operators can pursue best industry practices for water efficiency, such as:

  • System-wide water loss accounting,
  • Leak detection and repair, and
  • Pricing that encourages consumer water conservation.

Water suppliers can also take steps to ensure adequate source capacity and system readiness for variable water quality. Follow the tabs to find resources to help with water efficiency, water availability and water mapping data.

Water Efficiency Strategies

Drinking water systems can implement water efficiency measures and still deliver an unchanged or improved level of service to consumers while reducing overhead costs. Improving water efficiency reduces operating costs (e.g., pumping and treatment) and reduces the need to develop new supplies and expand our water infrastructure. It also reduces withdrawals from limited freshwater supplies, leaving more water for future use and improving the ambient water quality and aquatic habitat.

More and more utilities are using water efficiency and consumer conservation programs to increase the sustainability of their supplies. There are many ways to improve efficiency through supply-side practices, such as accurate meter reading and leak detection and repair programs, and through demand-side strategies, such as conservation-based water rates and public education programs.

EPA has developed a document that provides an overview of a range of best practices that utilities can undertake to avoid the need to expand their water supplies.

Supply-side Strategies for Water Suppliers

Accounting for Water

Accounting for water is an essential step toward ensuring that a water utility is sustainable. This is best accomplished when water systems meter use by their customers. Metering helps to identify losses due to leakage and also provides the foundation on which to build an equitable rate structure to ensure adequate revenue to operate the system.

Water Loss Control

National studies indicate that, on average, 14 percent of the water treated by water systems is lost to leaks. Some water systems have reported water losses exceeding 60 percent. Accounting for water and minimizing water loss are critical functions for any water utility that wants to be sustainable.

Demand-side Strategies for Water Suppliers

Water Rates

One of the most effective ways to reduce demand for water is to establish rates that escalate as more water is used. The following resources have information on and examples of effective rate management:

Consumer Efficiency

Consumers can reduce water use by installing water-efficient products or employing efficiency practices, such as turning the water off while brushing teeth or running washing machines only when they are full. Water systems can promote these actions through consumer rebate and education programs.

  • EPA's WaterSense Program - WaterSense seeks to protect the future of our nation's water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water-efficient products, programs, and practices. Visit the website for information on water-efficient products and practices, as well as utilities who offer rebates for WaterSense labeled products. Water systems can also apply to become a WaterSense program partner and receive tools they can use to promote their own water efficiency programs.
  • EPA's Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance CenterThe Center works with on-the-ground partners to provide financial technical assistance to communities. It provides objective financial advice to help communities make informed decisions on funding drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure projects. It also provides access to tools that help utilities make financing decisions that meet their local infrastructure needs.

Water Availability

As water supplies are stressed by growing populations, the impacts of climate change and greater competition of resources, the need to leverage innovative technologies and alternative water supplies continues to grow. The challenge for many is matching the quality of water with its intended use.

Many water systems use treated wastewater for irrigation or industrial uses where water does not need to be of drinking water quality. Some water systems treat wastewater to drinking water standards and store it underground before using it as a source of drinking water.

Water systems can use the following approaches to address current and anticipated variability of source water quality and quantity:

Water Reuse

An increasing number of communities are viewing wastewater as a resource rather than a waste.

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Aquifer Storage and Recovery

Artificial aquifer recharge (AR) is the enhancement of natural ground water supplies using manmade conveyances such as infiltration basins or injection wells. Aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a specific type of AR to augment ground water resources and recover the water in the future for various uses. The type of water injected for ASR includes treated drinking water, surface water, stormwater, and treated wastewater effluent. The wells used to inject fluids are regulated as underground injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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As source water becomes scarcer and treatment technology improves, more water systems are considering desalination. Desalination is a way to treat and use seawater or brackish ground water (more common in the southwestern U.S.) to create a freshwater supply. Brackish and saline water filtration and treatment can produce large amounts of waste residuals that require proper disposal.

Stormwater Management

Many communities consider stormwater a valuable resource to capture or inject into the ground to restore depleted aquifers. Solutions range from retention ponds, to rain barrels and cisterns, to a variety of strategies for infiltrating stormwater where it falls, rather than channeling it away through piped systems.

Fostering these approaches in your community can reduce the demands on your drinking water system, extend the life of water supplies, and have other environmental benefits. Find out more from the following EPA sources:

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Related Links

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Water Maps

Several national databases on surface water and ground water resources are available online to help in evaluating your water system's source water viability.

Additional Resources

On this page:

Training and Tools

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Case Studies and Best Management Practices

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Working with States

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State Actions

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  • Alliance for Water Efficiency Resource Library - The Alliance for Water Efficiency Resource Library hosts a clickable map of the United States that provides state-by-state information on water efficiency incentives and regulations.
  • The Metropolitan North Georgia Water District  - Created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2001 to work with local governments, water and wastewater utilities, and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive regional water resources plan to protect water quality and water supply, to protect recreational values of the waters, and to minimize potential adverse impacts of development on water.
  • Washington State's Water Use Efficiency (WUE) Program - Increases awareness about how the efficient use of water strengthens the relationship between the reliability and safety of our water supplies. Washington State has one of the most comprehensive regulatory WUE programs in the nation by requiring municipal water suppliers to demonstrate and report their efficient use of water. These requirements stemmed from a 2003 Municipal Water Law (MWL) and subsequent Water Use Efficiency Rule, which impacts all community water systems in the state.
  • Texas Water Development Board - The Texas Water Development Board's Water Conservation Division developed several guides as part of its mission to provide leadership, planning, financial assistance, information, and education for the conservation and responsible development of water for Texas.

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Related Links

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