Data Collection

Data collection performed appropriately and in conjunction with well organized data management, creates the basis for the majority of all organizational decision making and planning that the water provider/entity conducts.  Data should be collected and stored in such a manner that it is safeguarded from damage or loss, accessible for inspection and evaluation, and utilized regularly to characterize trends and support management efforts.  Management data is discussed in the BMP that follows.

Data collection can be segregated into four keys areas:

  • Water flows and volumes – including water production and treated; unmetered and metered unbilled water; customer water deliveries; and leaks.
  • Costs (direct and indirect) – for production, treatment and distribution of water (e.g., energy, chemicals); materials; labor for maintenance; staff costs (e.g., salaries, training, certifications, fringe); laboratory fees; repairs (labor and expenses); etc.
  • Billings – for retail and wholesale sales; and
  • Infrastructure – tracking all assets including pipe (diameter, location, age and materials); meters (age, size, totalized volume, maintenance records and location).

Best management practices exist for data collection with regards to each of these areas. 

Collection of data is first and foremost an exercise in discipline, for data must be collected in a manner that is consistent and rigorous; meaning that whatever the data are that are being collected, they should be collected at nearly the same time and in the same way day to day, month to month, and year to year, to the extent practical.  In addition, quality control procedures should be in place to test the data for accuracy and completeness.  Data quality will be discussed in more detail below.

  • Production/Diversion Volumes – install master meter(s) in production line before and after treatment.  Ideally, flow rates (and/or totalized flows) would be tracked electronically with direct download to a computer for storage.  For multiple production wells, there may be a meter for each well; however, there should be a master meter at the distribution line after all wells are manifold to a single distribution line.  In situations where numerous wells are used for production at vastly different geographies, such that a single distribution manifold is not practical, multiple master meters will be warranted. Master meters should be tested at least annually for accuracy.   Production data should be collected daily.
  • Leaks – the number and location of leaks should be tracked.  So too should the duration of the leak and the estimated volume of water loss, based on the observed pool of water, the production records and the operator’s knowledge of overall customer water use trends.


  • Energy/Utility costs – electric and natural gas costs should be tracked monthly from utility bills.
  • Chemicals – chemical costs related to water treatment should be tracked monthly.
  • Clerical expenses – expenses related to billing, postage, insurance, computers, internet, phone, etc. should be tracked monthly.
  • Office equipment – cost to provide for office equipment including tables, computers, printers, etc. should be tracked as expenditures occur.
  • Materials – materials required to support water system maintenance and operations, including new and replacement customer meters, meter yokes, backflow prevention devices, pipe, treatment works needs, etc. should be tracked monthly.
  • Maintenance – labor and subcontractor expenses for maintenance of the water production, treatment, and distribution systems should be tracked monthly.
  • Training/Certifications – costs related to staff training and certification (less staff time) should be tracked as they occur.
  • Laboratory Expenses – the costs to collect, analyze and report laboratory data should be tracked on a monthly and/or quarterly basis.
  • Repairs – the cost for repairs, less staff time, should be tracked as they occur.
  • Planning and consulting – the cost to contract with consultants for planning, audits, bookkeeping, tax filing, legal advice, etc., less staff time, should be tracked as they occur.
  • Debt service – the cost for all debt service should be tracked monthly by line time, including principal and interest paid.
  • Staff costs – the costs to pay staff and provide for their fringe and overhead should be tracked monthly.

Billing is the most common interaction between the water utility and its customers; and it is the most critical part of the relationship, since for any organization, revenue generation is paramount to sustainability, for without cash flow, the utility cannot meet its financial obligations.  Therefore, billing practices and protocols are a vital component of any utility’s operations.  Billing also can be used to provide important messaging to the customer – especially messaging related to over use of water.  However, messages contained in a water bill related to the over use of water is best provided to a customer within a short time of actual water use such that a behavioral change can be implemented.  Timely billing for water use to create positive cash flow for the utility and to provide customers with feedback on their water use is an important tool for utilities to use to maintain fiscal independence and to help instill a culture of water use efficiency.

  • Customer water use - customer water use should be tracked for each tap and/or connection.  Customer water use should also be segregated into customer types (e.g., single family residential, multi-family residential, commercial, institutional (e.g., school, jail), municipal use (e.g., town hall, shop, parks), irrigation only, etc.  The segregation of water use by different kinds of customers will support evaluations of water conservation programs by customer type; as well as help the water company better understand its customer water use trends and needs.  Customer water use should be collected at least monthly.  Advanced metering infrastructure allows for the collection of customer water use on a daily or even hourly basis (which can help operators to identify leaks and other inefficiencies on the customer side of the meter).
  • Unbilled Volumes – The operator should track all unmetered uses; both as types of uses and with estimates of volumes.  For unmetered uses, the operator can calculate volumes from pumping rates and time periods, volume of receiving vehicles (e.g., size and percent fill of a water tank with known storage tank volume), etc.  For metered, unbilled uses, the operator may have records related to read meters. Unbilled volumes should be estimated for each month.

This information is important for maintaining a sustainable understanding of the infrastructure that is maintained and operated by the organization; characterizing the location, age, repair schedule, and value of assets controlled by the organization.  The organization should maintain accurate maps of its facilities and assets as part of its infrastructure and system management.  Maps can be hardcopy and/or electronic copies.  Electronic copies, maintained through GIS systems (e.g., ARCGIS) can be more easily updated with repairs and maintenance procedures.

  • Production wells/Transmission Systems – maintain well completion drawings showing drilled depth, borehole diameter, casing diameter, screened interval(s), pump type and setting, and surface completion details such as pipe and valving details.  Include information on well rehabilitation efforts (including dates and methods) and pump testing and replacement dates. Also include information on pipelines used for transmission of water to treatment facilities.
  • Treatment plant/treatment systems – maintain plans and engineering drawings, to the extent possible, for all treatment works, including piping, instrumentation and equipment layout, equipment type and specifications, manufacturing cut sheets, and monitoring details.
  • Distribution piping and appurtenances – maintain maps (see below) with information depicting location, depth, size, material, age, and maintenance schedule for all distribution piping and appurtenances (e.g., isolation valving, submeters, elbows, storage and pressure tanks, etc.).
  • Location of repairs – track the location and nature of all repairs made to production wells and treatment facilities, and distribution piping and storage facilities, including date of repair, cost, materials used, and completion drawings to the extent possible. 
  • Meters – track all customer meters by location, age, size, testing schedule, and total volume passed through the meter since last repaired or replaced.



Data Mapping and Organization
Data Collection for Small Water Systems (Department of Health, Washington State)