Preserving drinkable water supplies requires updating state’s water efficiency efforts, performance audit finds

Dec 19, 2023

With limited supplies in greater demand, Washington needs to better understand current water system data to reduce the loss of drinkable water, according to a new performance audit by the Office of the Washington State Auditor.

The Department of Health is tasked with increasing the efficiency of the state’s 2,065 local municipal water systems through both customer-focused conservation efforts and minimizing the loss of water as it travels through the systems.

However, the audit found the department does not know how much drinking water most municipal water systems lose through their distribution pipes. Furthermore, some systems are not metered, although this is required by law, which means the department does not know how many systems are in compliance.

The audit found small water systems struggle to comply with water use efficiency rules because they typically lack funds to do so. Those small systems make up nearly 90 percent of all municipal water systems, but they serve only 7 percent of all customers.

“Today our population is growing rapidly and our water supplies are more constrained – most Washingtonians experienced drought conditions over the past summer,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy. “The time is now to redouble our efforts to ensure sufficient fresh water for future generations, and this performance audit offers recommendations to help do just that.”

The audit recommends offering more technical assistance to water suppliers, measuring and managing water loss more accurately, and improving the collection and use of water system data. It also recommends the Legislature reassign the conservation portion of water use efficiency efforts to the Department of Ecology, which has more experience in natural resource conservation and is already tasked with updating the state’s response to climate change.

The full report and summary material can be found here: Assessing the Effectiveness of Washington's Water Use Efficiency Regulations