Causes and consequences of losses in water supply systems

According to a study conducted in 2020 by the Trata Brasil institute, 38.3% of drinking and treated water is lost on its way from the water treatment plants to citizens’ homes – that is, for every 100 liters, 38 liters do not reach their destination. This means more than 7 thousand Olympic pools, an amount that exceeds R$ 11 billion. In a country where the basic sanitation numbers are still far from ideal, these numbers are even more revealing.

The term “water loss” refers to the unintentional waste of drinking water that occurs in various ways in a supply system. These losses have negative impacts for society, because they mean the waste of a large amount of water that would be consumed by the population. Most often they are caused by leaks at different points in the water supply system, by illegal connections, and by inaccurate readings resulting from very old hydrometers.

Countries that have low percentages of water loss are those that invest in more modern hydrometers. In addition, they use equipment that identifies water theft and orient the population on the need for preventive maintenance of the water supply networks.

There are two types of water loss:

Physical or real losses: Volumes of water that are not consumed because they have been lost along the way between water treatment plants and customers. These leaks occur mainly due to the deterioration of the pipes. They can be visible, which appear on the surface, or non-visible, which do not appear on the surface and whose location depends on the use of equipment to scan the pipes.

Commercial or apparent losses: Water that is consumed, but the volumes are not accounted for by the distribution company due to irregularities such as fraud and illegal connections and incorrect metering of hydrometers. The share of apparent losses represents lost revenue for the sanitation company and is not equivalent to the physical loss of the water.

There is no such thing as “zero loss”. Water losses are one of the most problematic points in the sanitation system worldwide and occur in any water supply process that takes place through distribution networks.

All these losses bring several negative impacts to society, the environment, companies’ revenues, and even the investments required to make advances in the sanitation process.

The main benefits indicated and foreseen with the reduction of losses are:

  • Increased revenue by reducing commercial losses.
  • Decreased costs by reducing physical losses.
  • Decreased rates of diseases that are transmitted from contaminated water through water theft and illegal connections.

To reduce the loss rate, the government must adopt strategies that unite actions to improve management and techniques (expansion of infrastructure) that allow to break the paradigms regarding the obstacles reported by the sanitation companies.