How much water are we leaking, anyway? - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

How much water are we leaking, anyway?

Flickr user Korona Lacasse (CC)

This large water pipe has sprung more than a few leaks.

This post was authored by MPC Research Assistant Jaci Amundsen.

This post originally appeared in a Northwest Water Planning Alliance monthly newsletter curated by MPC. To learn more about the alliance please visit their website, or sign up for the newsletter to stay in the loop. Read more about what the Northwest Water Planning Alliance is focusing on these days through our series.

Have you ever measured how much water your leaky faucet wastes?

Is your water provider measuring leaks in the pipes that deliver your water?

Maybe not.

An analysis of five regional entities across the U.S. found that an average of 1,132 gallons of water were lost per mile of water main each day. That’s more than 12 times the estimated 88 gallons per day used by an average American!

Every day, utilities across northeastern Illinois spend money on producing drinking water from lakes, rivers and aquifers to deliver water to our homes and offices. These costs include labor, water treatment, infrastructure, maintenance and energy.

All of these costs add up. Water utilities use energy to run treatment processes and then pump the water to your home. The annual cost of this energy in Illinois can range from $92,037 to $845,405, depending on the water source. Additionally, Illinois’ water infrastructure is estimated to require investment of $21.5 billion by 2030. 

With many miles of water distribution systems, this could mean significant amounts of water (and money) are being lost. In order to understand how significant, we need to understand exactly how much water we lose.

Chicago-area municipalities using Lake Michigan water are required to report approximate losses to the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources. However, areas in northeastern Illinois that use groundwater or inland lakes and rivers are not required to audit or report these losses.

Enter the American Water Works Association’s M36 Water Audit Software.

The American Water Works Association’s M36 Water Audit Software is a free spreadsheet that shows a utility where water waste is occurring. The software is meant to be used in tandem with the American Water Works Association’s M36 Manual on best practices in water audits and water loss control.

The software uses water use and financial data to provide information on lost water due to leaks, overflows, meter or data inaccuracies and unauthorized hookups. By calculating lost water throughout the system, utilities can determine the optimal locations to fund repairs or capital improvement.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Water 2050 is a regional plan to address water supply and demand. Its recommendations aim to ensure our region’s water supply remains available for future generations and it calls for all public water suppliers to perform annual water system audits.

Water 2050 estimates auditing to be one of the most effective conservation measures explored: if only half the region implemented annual water auditing and resulting leak detection and repairs, we could save more than 29.7 million gallons of water per day. That’s a lot of water!

The Northwest Water Planning Alliance, an intergovernmental organization seeking to collaboratively plan for and steward the shared river and groundwater resources in the northwestern areas of Chicago, is also focused on promoting this water auditing tool throughout the region. Minimizing water losses is crucial, since many communities in this area rely on finite groundwater sources.

The information provided from these audits will enable utilities to identify water losses within their system and create benchmarks for reductions in wasted water over time. Minimizing water loss will increase water available to consumers without increasing the need for new facilities.

More widespread adoption of the M36 water auditing tool will provide water suppliers with an effective way to measure the magnitude of the water loss problem and lead to efficient, effective capital investment in northeastern Illinois.


No comments

More posts by Danielle

  1. Sincerest Thanks and Best of Luck, Sarah!

All posts by Danielle »

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.?

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone

For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

Donate »