California’s Water Agencies Lose Millions of Gallons Underground due to Leaky Pipes

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Drought, Ground Water News, United States Water News, Water Conservation, Water Crisis, Water pipes
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Water continues to flow into a sinkhole from the broken water main on Sunset Boulevard near UCLA, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. File photo. (Photo credit: Michael Owen Baker / Staff Photographer)

Article courtesy of Mike Reichey | October 21, 2014 | Press Telegram | Shared as educational material

As 20 million gallons of drinking water rushed down Sunset Boulevard and flooded the UCLA campus this summer, drought-conscious residents threw up their hands.

How are three-minute showers going to make a difference, they asked, when they city’s pipes are bursting?

Turns out the UCLA flood was just a drop in the sea of potable water that leaks or blows out of underground pipes. California’s water distribution systems lose up to 228 billion gallons annually, the state estimates — more than enough to supply the entire city of Los Angeles for a year.

To gauge leakage, cities and utilities tally how much they sell, plus an estimate of what is stolen or inaccurately metered. Then they subtract the total from the amount of water supplied to get a loss estimate.

The Long Beach Water Department has recorded relatively low water loss, at just 20 gallons per day for each of its 91,146 service connections.

“The reason for that is we made tremendous investments in our pipes that are below ground,” said Matthew Lyons, LBWD director of conservation and planning.

Lyons said the department invested money into a pipe replacement program about 20 years ago, which has drastically reduced the average number of annual water main breaks from 170 to roughly 20.

The program uses geographical information systems — software that displays and analyzes data related to physical location — to pinpoint information, including the location, size, material, installation and history of breaks for every single pipe in its 950-mile system. That combined with a specialized software allows the department to identify, track and prioritize replacement of its pipes.

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