Fix A Leak Week, Making Sure Every Drop Counts

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – March 18, 2013 – Comment

Each year, upwards of 1 trillion gallons of water are wasted due to leaks in homes across the United States. On average, each American home loses more than 11,000 gallons of water from dripping faucets, running toilets, and other common household leaks. That’s enough water to fill a backyard swimming pool! In order to spread awareness about how a common leak can lead to severe water loss, the U.S. EPA, the voluntary program called WaterSense, and their many partners are teaming up for the fifth annual Fix a Leak Week, happening this year from March 18th -24th.

A leak as small as 1/8 inch can consume up to 3,500 gallons of water per day. Fixing leaks in a timely manner and being proactive in checking for leaks not only saves you money on your monthly water bill, but it also makes you a more environmentally conscious consumer of one of the world’s most valuable resources. If you want to find out whether or not one of your household appliances has a leak, follow these easy steps:

  1. If you think your toilet may be leaking, put a few drops of food coloring in the tank, watch for a few minutes, and if the color shows up in the bowl then you have a leak! Toilet leaks can cause your house to lose over 100 gallons a week.
  2. If you think your dishwasher or washing machine may be leaking, check for stains or drips underneath and behind the appliance.
  3. Immediately replace broken sprinkler system heads in order to prevent leaks in your sprinkler system.
  4. Check faucets and showerheads for signs of leaks by placing a bowl under the fixture and checking for any water accumulation.

In water systems across the country, it is estimated that almost seven billion gallons of drinking water are lost each day through leaky pipes. So just as homeowners and businesses have a responsibility to check their pipes for leaks, water utilities must  be always on the job checking water mains, valves, and pipes across the country for potential leaks or breaks by implementing various technologies that encourage resource conservation and efficiency of this precious resource. Many leaks appear to be related to water temperature changes and other factors such as soil movement, vibrations and water pressure changes.  Of course, keeping track of such a large and complex system requires tools well beyond a wrench and some plumber’s tape, including:  

  • GIS mapping, which more clearly identifies areas prone to repetitive leaks by reviewing historical leak information in specific areas.
  • Continuous acoustic monitoring of water mains via service pipes, where leak detecting sensors record sound vibrations each night, and then specially-designed software analyzes acoustical patterns and assigns them one of three leak categories: “no leak present,” “possible leak” or “probable leak.”
  • Master meters, available in some regions, are used to measure the water use in a specific area on a periodic basis. When a system experiences a higher than expected water flow in the middle of the night, it can be identified as a spot to investigate for onsite leak detection. This reduces the need to dispatch leak detection specialists into areas that are relatively leak-free. This is a common practice used in Europe, but is just beginning to be utilized in the U.S.

Leak detection by water utilities involves trained technicians and specialized equipment, but it’s important to remember that all of us can be “water sleuths” at home. Whether it’s in your own home, or affecting the vast water delivery infrastructure across the country, if we work together we can cut down on water loss and ensure sustainable water systems for generations to come.