Water distribution pipes running through a lush field of wild flowers.
Washington Imaging

Since water, energy, and climate change are intricately related, the sustainable water management practice of pressure management and active leakage control would contribute to a strategy of reversing emissions.

Water Distribution Efficiency

Reduce SourcesElectricityEnhance Efficiency
CO2 Equivalent
Reduced / Sequestered
Billion $US
Net First Cost
(To Implement Solution)
Billion $US
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Pumping water requires enormous amounts of electricity. Addressing leaks in water-distribution networks, especially in cities, can curb water loss, energy use, and emissions.

Solution Summary*

Pumping water from source to treatment plant to storage and distribution requires enormous amounts of energy. Utilities use the phrase “non-revenue water” to describe the gap between what goes into a municipal water system and what ultimately comes out the tap. The World Bank calculates that 8.6 trillion gallons are lost each year through leaks, split roughly in half between high- and low-income countries.

Producing billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity to pump water through breaks in the world’s water-distribution networks—rather than into homes or businesses—is expensive. It also produces unnecessary emissions. By minimizing leaks and losses, both energy and water are saved.

Improving the efficiency of water distribution largely depends on management practices. The torrential bursts that cut off service and submerge streets are not actually the worst from a waste perspective: They demand attention and immediate remediation. The bigger problem is with smaller, long-running leaks that are less detectable. Vigilant, thorough detection and speed to resolution are key.

Addressing leaks requires financial investment, but doing so is the cheapest way to source new supply and serve growing urban populations. Those same practices make municipal water systems more resilient to water shortages.

* excerpted from the book, Drawdown

Modeling only the impact of pressure management and active leakage control, we estimate that water losses can be reduced by an additional 38–47 percent globally by 2050. The resulting emissions reduction from pumped distribution could be 0.66–0.94 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Total installation cost is US$24.6–31.1 billion, and operating savings for utilities could be US$168-238 billion by 2050. Implementing this simple solution could save 359489–449489 million meters cubed of water over 30 years.