The U.S. Wastes 7 Billion Gallons of Drinking Water a Day: Can Innovation Help Solve the Problem?

UpStart [uhp-stahrt]n. 1. A company or organization with innovative approaches to energy use, carbon pollution, resource consumption, and/or social equity, 2. A company or organization overcoming market barriers to build the new clean energy economy.

by Adam James

In 2009, America earned a D- in drinking water, according to the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card. Why? Every day leaking pipes lose an estimated seven billion gallons of clean drinking water (over 11,000 swimming pools). That, combined with the $11 billion annual shortfall to replace aging water facilities, makes the U.S. a very water-inefficient country.

By 2020, California estimates it will incur “water shortages equal to the needs of 4-12 million families of four.” Sadly, with a growing population, increased migration to urban areas, and global warming, these shortages promise to become far more common. A study released by the NRDC found that more than 1,100 U.S. counties face water shortages as a result of climate change. Of those, 400 are in the “extreme risk” category, representing a 14x increase over previous estimates.  The agricultural value of the crops in those 400 counties represents over $105 billion in GDP.

Compounding the problem is that the emissions from the 7,000,000 gallons for water lost from leakage are estimated to contribute 13.5 million kg of CO2e to the atmosphere daily — accelerating climate change and further exacerbating the vicious cycle.

The UpStart Solution:

This is a major problem for municipalities around the country. But it’s also a major opportunity for companies that can mop up all that waste.

One company, Echologics Engineering, specializes in the deployment of acoustic-based leak detection equipment, including correlators and listening devices, which locate leaks without breaking ground. Over a ten year period, Echologics says it can reduce the carbon footprint of water leakage worldwide by as much as 2.04 megatons CO2eq (assuming certain flow rates and number of leaks).

The company has recently completed projects in multiple municipalities in North America, Europe, South Africa, Singapore, and Australia. It just deployed its technology in New Orleans, where the Echologics uncovered leaks that were causing losses of up to 100,000 gallons of water per day. Echologics did the same for United Water in New Jersey, where its technology detected leaks of 10,000 gallons  a day at a pipeline — all without having to break ground or impact service.

Scaling up this technology to meet a 0.25 megaton CO2e reduction annually would require investments of about $2,000,000 per year; a bargain when you consider that federal expenditures on drinking water will have to be between $10-20 billion the next 20 years just to stay afloat, according to a Congressional Budget Office report.

Echologics Engineering is one of the many revolutionary UpStarts who are finding that greening the “white space” in markets is not only socially responsible, it’s smart business. With continued investment and innovation, the private sector will continue to unlock the tremendous potential inherent in reducing our carbon emissions, making our society more efficient and growing our economy.

Special thanks to the Carbon War Room for providing the data and background information for this story.

— Adam James is a special assistant for energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

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9 Responses to The U.S. Wastes 7 Billion Gallons of Drinking Water a Day: Can Innovation Help Solve the Problem?

  1. KenL says:

    Americans take clean, abundant water for granted, and consequently are enormously wasteful of it. The fact that we use potable water to flush our toilets is just one example.

    This attitude and many related issues are explored in _The Big Thirst_ by Charles Fishman. One of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in the past year.

  2. Joan Savage says:

    I need to see some background for that statement, “emissions from the 7,000,000 gallons for water lost from leakage are estimated to contribute 13.5 million kg of CO2e to the atmosphere daily..”

    So is the 13.5 million kg CO2e number based on expended energy, pumping wasted water?

    Anything else?

    It might help to edit the statement, as CO2e emissions are not from the water itself, unless H2O chemistry has changed abruptly.

  3. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Yes Ken, once again we see a problem treated as a technical one when it is as much if not more a behavioural one. But a 10 year drought works wonders, ME

  4. bill waterhouse says:

    OT but there are a bunch of stories today about a huge crack in the Pine Island ice sheet and virtually all of the stories say its part of a “natural process” and not AGW. This is worth a post, Joe. Wondering if the people working on GRACE project would concur its not AGW?

  5. Joan Savage says:

    I’m lucky to live in an area of pure water that does not require much pre-treatment, except filter and a shot of chlorine, so I forgot how expensive it can be to pre-treat.

    It would help to see an overview of the carbon footprint of potable water from source to use to post-use treatment, and break out the wasted water parts of those steps.

  6. Mark says:

    Do you:

    (A) Run the tap waiting for hot water, and
    (B) Have $500-$1000 sitting in an investment account earning almost no interest?
    (C) Want to save energy, conserve water, have instant hot water, and make that money earn 15-20% risk and task free?

    Then consider installing a very simple
    Gravity fed hot water recirculation system

    Properly installed, it can cut both energy and water use. If you’ll be in the house for 5 years, forget about years-to-payback, and think instead about how much interest you would have to earn on that money just sitting in your bank account. Its a pretty awesome way to a small amount of cash to work doing some good.

  7. Raul M. says:

    If a water hose was run on the roof then to the inlet of the hot water tank the water could heat up some before it ever got into the hot water tank. A hose could hold and heat enough for a shower or to run a dishwasher or the laundry, for example. Not having to pay the heat bill so much to have hot water.

  8. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    WASTE NOT ,WANT NOT should be our policy in conserving resources.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  9. Robert In New Orleans says:

    The real problem is that America has lost its will to reinvest in infrastructure due to the right wing belief that public investment is closet socialism.