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Money Down The Drain: The High Cost Of Leaking Water Pipes

Leaking water pipe across Aotearoa New Zealand could be costing the country upwards of $122 million a year according to public health researchers.

In the latest Briefing from the Public Health Communication Centre, University of Otago researchers calculate the financial value of water lost through leaking pipes.

The country’s leaking water infrastructure threatens one of the most fundamental components of good public health – access to safe drinking water – and costs councils, communities, and the country.

“Nationally, we’re losing about 20% of reticulated water from leaky pipes. In some centres it can be far more than this, around 40 to 50%, as in Wellington,” says Briefing co-author Marnie Prickett.

“The financial value of the wasted water is one thing to consider but there are other risks that come from leaking pipes. These include water scarcity during summer months, damage to surrounding infrastructure from the leaking water and possible pathways for contamination of drinking water with microbes.” Studies from the United States show that there can be disease outbreaks with deaths when water pipes have cracks in them.

“Having turned their backs on the previous government’s ‘Three Waters’ reforms, the Government must develop a credible alternative to support councils to achieve the billions of dollars of upgrades needed,” says Ms Prickett.

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“Councils in turn need to expand on the use of water metering to better understand where leaks are occurring. They should begin charging where households use more than a basic allocation of water to avoid equity issues.”

The estimate of $122 million in this analysis had the benefit of using “real world” water prices based on those set by Councils in 14 localities around the country. The authors of the Briefing acknowledge that there are different ways that the wastage costs could be calculated.

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