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Water: Sustainable Infrastructure

Water Efficiency Strategies

Efficiency versus Conservation: What's the Difference?
"Water efficiency" means using  improved technologies and practices that deliver equal or better service with less water. For example, leak detection programs can reduce the amount of water, pressure, and energy required to deliver the same amount of water to consumers' taps.

"Water conservation" has been associated with curtailment of water use and doing "less" with less water, typically during a water shortage, such as a drought. For example, minimizing lawn watering in order to conserve water.
North Carolina DNR Water Efficiency Manual
Drinking water systems can implement water efficiency measures and still deliver an unchanged or improved level of service to consumers while reducing overhead costs. Improving water efficiency reduces operating costs (e.g., pumping and treatment) and reduces the need to develop new supplies and expand our water infrastructure. It also reduces withdrawals from limited freshwater supplies, leaving more water for future use and improving the ambient water quality and aquatic habitat.

More and more utilities are using water efficiency and consumer conservation programs to increase the sustainability of their supplies. Case studies demonstrate substantial opportunities to improve efficiency through supply-side practices, such as accurate meter reading and leak detection and repair programs, as well as through demand-side strategies, such as conservation-based water rates and public education programs.

Supply-side Strategies for Water Suppliers

Accounting for Water—Accounting for water is an essential step toward ensuring that a water utility is sustainable. This is best accomplished when water systems meter use by their customers. Metering helps to identify losses due to leakage and also provides the foundation on which to build an equitable rate structure to ensure adequate revenue to operate the system.

Water Loss Control—National studies indicate that, on average, 14 percent of the water treated by water systems is lost to leaks. Some water systems have reported water losses exceeding 60 percent. Accounting for water and minimizing water loss are critical functions for any water utility that wants to be sustainable.

Demand-side Strategies for Water Suppliers

Water Rates—One of the most effective ways to reduce demand for water is to establish rates that escalate as more water is used. The following provides information on and examples of effective rate management:

Consumer Efficiency—Consumers can reduce water use by installing water-efficient products or employing efficiency practices, such as turning the water off while brushing teeth or running washing machines only when they are full. Water systems can promote these actions through consumer rebate and education programs.

  • EPA's WaterSense ProgramWaterSense seeks to protect the future of our nation's water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water-efficient products, programs, and practices. Visit the website for information on water-efficient products and practices, as well as utilities who offer rebates for WaterSense labeled products. Water systems can also apply to become a WaterSense program partner and receive tools they can use to promote their own water efficiency programs. 

Water Efficiency & Conservation Resources

Additional resources in the form of case studies, tools, state actions, and best management practices, can be found on the Water Efficiency & Conservation Resources page.


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