Is NYC really losing 30% of its water?

Former three-term Albuquerque mayor Marty Chavez has some sage advice for other mayors: "Providing water may not get you elected, but not providing water will get you fired." It seems New York City's Mayor Bloomberg could use his advice. In a recent interview with Planet Forward, Chavez told us that New York City is losing 30% of its water to unknown leakages.


Water leakage is not a problem unique to New York City. "Non-revenue water" (for the non-wonk: water that is treated but never reaches a consumer) accounts for 10-30% of water that enters the water systems in developed countries. In under-developed countries it can get up to 40%. And it ain't cheap: according to a report by the World Bank, the cost of this mismanagement can be "conservatively estimated" at $14 billion per year. In what other line of work would we accept that much waste in a process?

Water is a key indicator of whether a smart community is adapting to climate change. And there will be challenges, no doubt. For some, sea levels will rise--compromising flood management systems, wastewater treatment and freshwater supplies. For others, drought will force them to better conserve and reclaim water. (Read the recent ARC3 report.) How communities handle 'too much' or 'not enough' will determine how well they grow and thrive in a changing planet.

Again, Marty Chavez, now the Executive Director of ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA, has prudent advice: this is where technological innovations can help. Chavez suggests that meters can be installed in water lines that can track the amount of water that passes through the system so that city managers can see where water is being lost. "This can reduce unaccounted-for water to 5%" says Chavez.

How do you think your community can be smarter about water? Are you seeing New York-style waste where you live? Join the conversation at Planet Forward. We're looking for your ideas to feature in our TV show.

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