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  • Writer's pictureIHS Alumni

Cities and water audits

How much exactly does an individual consume water on a daily basis?

The answer: It depends where you live, your lifestyle and how much you earn.

A typical American use water from 80-380 liters; and the Irish averages around 150 liters. The Dutch uses 119 liters, while Filipinos use at least 98 liters.  An individual uses water differently but this fact remains: a person will only need 20 to 50 liters of water for domestic uses on a daily basis. That’s water (and money) down the drain!

A few months back, I had the privilege of working with experts from the Alliance of Water Efficiency. Our intervention was simple: reach out to different stakeholders, governments, businesses, city managers, water utility operators, the academe, civil society and the media and to drum up water demand management, and understand the potentials of implementing water audits in the Philippines.  Imagine water demand management (WDM) like an umbrella of solutions:  Solutions on public policy, laws, measures and practices to reduce water use for long-term water security.

The conduct of water audits has been increasingly important for utility managers in cities and regulators across the globe to understand consumption patterns. Water audits are done to analyze a household (or even a facility) to define inefficiencies in water use.  It actually tells us if there are ‘leaky’ pipes and faucets, and if we have the right devices installed to efficiently use water. No, it does not promote reduction of hours of available water to your pipe—it educates individuals and institutions to use water smartly.

As cities grow and agglomerate, water supply sources are at a greater stress than ever as population increases and urban densities intensify; and risks associated with extreme weather events due to climate change become insurmountable. Over the decades that followed, the quality of global groundwater sources deteriorated with 4% of the stock too polluted to be potable.  Water audits as one of the demand management measures to complement the supply side (infrastructure needs, more pumps, reservoir, and so on) – is practical and effective when cities think about solutions on the consequences of climate change and urbanization to our global water resources.

During the two-month intensive engagement of these water efficiency experts, the success of water audits is possible when cities and urban communities participate.

Label it. We learned that in the Philippines, there is a need to label water efficiency devices (showers, aerators, even toilets). It is not that these are not available in the market- consumers are not just made aware of it. A national policy directive that will label these water efficiency devices are being worked out, similar to the eco-labeling of LED lights.  Even without the national policy environment in place, City managers can program water demand management actions into their city development plans; adopt ordinances and policies that will support businesses, and housing developers to use water-efficient devices; and identify future investment needs.  Some local regulations may require certain businesses (like a car wash facility!) to use aerators, and water capture basins.

Check your own water, it’s smart. Water utility providers in cities are more than willing to do transparent water audits. By involving urban communities in the conduct of such process checks, water utility companies lessens the costs to mobilize resources when they start to implementing  non-revenue water reduction (NRW) programs. NRW initiatives are important as many urban water infrastructure systems see leakage rates of 50% or more, according to Our Water Counts. We have witnessed this in Zamboanga City Water District; as it was able to create synergies to lay out the plan to conduct water audits with consumers; and big businesses consuming high volume of water with city managers.

The business of saving water. City managers can support an enabling environment to conduct self-audit mechanisms. It can develop a cadre of local plumbers, trained with specific skills set, and knowledge on water efficiency device that can complement the specific services to households, and facilities.  By accrediting pool local plumbers, the City presents another viable employment option. After a water audit, specific solutions (i.e. pipe retro-fitting, replacement of common used faucets with aerators, showerheads, washers) will be identified. It’s not only good business for the local plumbers; but also for the local economy providing these water efficiency devices.  Cities can also provide incentives to businesses that are efficiently using water through tax holidays, and other fees. Some best practices that cities can collaborate with big companies is to re-use treated water for common uses (street washing, water use for parks and open space plants and trees) in exchange for fees and tax incentives.

Walk, then talk.  City managers, when they put on the social-engineers’ hat, can be the most effective social mobilisers to lead an advocacy for water demand management. One way of effecting advocacy campaign for WDM and water audits is to lead by example. City halls and institutional buildings can be the demonstration facilities for water efficiency use. In Marikina City, for example, when they installed rain-water harvesting systems in public schools, the City saved as much as 50% of their water bill. It also made the case for affecting a communications strategy for efficient water use to students and residents.

In other words, when communities, citizens, businesses support these initiatives, a city’s transparency and good governance scorecard are considered and rated positively.

Water audits equates to good governance to cities.  So the next time you turn on the tap or the shower heads, you can count the water coming out of it-well, quite literally. And mind the heads, not the water.


Author: Shiela dela Torre is an International development professional based in Manila, Philippines and an IHS Alumna.  Her interests are on water and sanitation regulatory policies, information management, governance, capacity building, and urban environmental management.  She is now working for the largest and pioneering climate & water program in the Philippines funded by the United States Agency for International Development.


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