In the recent years an increasingly higher attention was paid to water losses management by water companies in Romania, especially due to the Sectorial Operational Programmes implemented at national level. The main reason for the inclusion of this activity in almost all the projects was the high level of losses (better said non-revenue water) in distribution. Although this situation is widely regarded as a „As required”, the question that naturally derived It is why it took these programs to resolve a situation that should have not existed in the first place?

The truth is that water loss management is not a new thing, water companies in Romania having such a concern since their creation (even I recently read a report in 1930 which set a campaign of pressure and flow measurements on night time in the district “Obor” in Bucharest) and all these results were not up to expectations. Maybe the expectations were too high (or unrealistic) or simply water companies had no vision necessary to achieve them?

I could not find a clear answer to this question, but I can analyze the situation based strictly on practical experience gained by working with different water companies in the country as an expert consultant for reducing water losses. First, instead of traditional water balance which take into consider only the water entering the system and billed consumption was introduced terminology and methodology recommended by the best practice manuals of the International Water Association (IWA), which has a clear distinction between physical water losses and non revenue water.

Therefore, to calculate the water balance we need some information and data with a high degree of accuracy and confidence. Unfortunately, in all cases, the companies of water did not have a history of this information because they were not considered relevant until then.

The direct consequence was that both consultants and water operators were forced to rely on simplifying assumptions, the most common being the equivalence of non-revenue water with physical losses of water. It is obvious that in this case the calculated target indicators lead to unrealistic situations (both in favor as and against of the operators of water).

Secondly, assuming that the values of the indicators are based on accurate data, confusion still persists between the actual distribution network and the company/ water branch managing the network. In this case the water operator must ask themselves if NRW (non-revenue water) expressed in percent is useful for the distribution network or if ILI (index of physical infrastructure losses) is useful for the company/ water branch?

No matter what the situation is, these indicators should be compared with some “standard” values to tell whether network or the water company is in a good or bad situation. Here we have another problem, namely the compared matrix, and the result can be completely different depending the matrix chosen (it is enough to compare values to the NP 133 / 1-2013 and The National Operators Manual for Water and Sanitation to prove this).

Third (and not necessarily final) it seems there is a general tendency to repeat the mistakes mentioned above and the explanation is not so simple as I wanted to be. It is time to present the “anti-fragility” concept of a proposed system by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I will use an analogy that the author himself has used it repeatedly to explain this concept. Imagine a package with FRAGILE ZIP inscription that I have just picked-up from the post office. If we dropped the package and its contents then we have deteriorate the package and lost the respectively value, in which case we will learn from mistakes and the next time we will use a ROBUST package (in an accident case we will not lose the value of his content).

Nassim Taleb suggests a third type of packaging, with a special property that in deterioration case will bring earnings and no losses. This package bears the inscription ANTIfragile. Note that the author does not believe necessarily that this ction of destruction is intended for the dedicated purpose to have gains, but rather a normal response to the environmental feedback. It is obvious that when the destruction of a component gets some income for the system you have no longer any stimulus to remediate the component situation.

Turning to the issue of water losses I have reached the conclusion that from this standpoint the water supply systems went from a fragile state (where physical losses generated losses) directly to a anti-fragile state (where physical losses can generate income

– To think only about the funds received that are designed and proportionate with the physical losses estimated), although the intention of implementing so many operational measures is to bring them to a robust condition. Time will tell if whether we should change dramatically the road where we are (going from the anti-fragile system to a robust system) or, paradoxically, a way to robust system first passes through an anti-fragile one.

Assist. Eng. Alexandru Aldea

Technical Construction University București, Hydraulic and Environment Protection Department

Water Loss Detectives No8