AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin’s water system lost 854 million fewer gallons of treated water in 2021 than the previous year, marking the largest year-on-year reduction in water loss in the another of the city in nearly a decade, according to an audit of the system.
In 2020, Austin pipes leaked a record 7.34 billion gallons. That dropped to 6.49 billion gallons last year, according to an annual report submitted to the Texas Water Development Board.
While 6.49 billion gallons is a huge amount — almost enough to fill Inks Lake one and a half times — Austin Water officials said that’s within acceptable industry limits. In financial terms, last year’s water leaks cost the city more than $2.5 million, according to the audit.
Water officials use the so-called “Infrastructure Leakage Index,” or ILI, as a measure of overall system performance. The leak index is based on a formula that includes operating pressure, number of connections and length of city lines. Some water loss in a system the size of Austin is unavoidable.
In 2021, Austin’s Leakage Index “increased from 4.45 to 3.86, which is within the range suggested by the American Waterworks Association (AWWA) and the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) between three and five for utilities of our size, customer base and production levels,” said Austin Water Utility spokeswoman Ginny Guerrero.
Austin Water has several initiatives to combat water loss, including rapid response to reported leaks, investments in infrastructure renewal, proactive leak detection and prevention, and the use of best practices and innovation, Guerrero said.
Austin’s water system has more than 3,900 miles of pipes ranging from 2 to 84 inches wide. The city has a program to replace and rehabilitate aging pipes. Austin is also replacing 240,000 old water meters with new smart meters by 2025. according to a city briefing.
The city’s 6.49 billion leaks are a measure of “real” water loss, that is, physical water lost through pipes. There are also “apparent losses” – a term for accounting losses, such as unbilled water consumption. Austin had 1.5 billion gallons of apparent water loss last year, which cost the city $8.1 million, according to the audit report.
The drop in water leaks is good news for a utility that has been through a turbulent few years.
In February, errors by staff at the Ullrich sewage treatment plant allowed contaminated water to enter the city’s system, triggering a boil water advisory in the city. city scale. Former public services director Greg Meszaros acknowledged the oversights and resigned from his post on February 11. It was the city’s third boil water advisory in four years.
During an epic winter storm and freeze in February 2021, thousands of homes suffered broken pipes and power outages. Austin’s largest water plant lost power, resulting in a boil water advisory.
In 2018, flooding caused excessive sludge in the system’s water sources, triggering the first-ever citywide boil water advisory.
In 2019, zebra mussels in a water plant intake pipe caused thousands of customers to have smelly tap water. The city did not issue a boil water advisory, ensuring that despite the smell, the water was safe to drink.