What farmers should do if they suspect they have a water leak

Water leaks are expensive. It’s not just the cost of the water that’s wasted but the cost of finding and repairing them. In the UK 3.2 billion litres of water are lost through leakage every day and with agriculture a water-intensive industry, a significant part of this could come from farms.

A leak of just one litre a minute could cost around £1,000 a year. This could be caused by a couple of leaky water troughs with a leaking or burst pipe costing a lot more. Although water companies are responsible for pipework leading to the water meter farmers and landowners are responsible for the water pipes on ‘their side of the meter’. As business customers for water services, farmers and landowners are responsible for paying for the water supplied to their site, even if it’s lost due to a leak, so it’s worth carrying out some regular, basic checks to make sure that you don’t have a leak.

Nigel Ponsford, Key Account Manager for agriculture at AquaCare, said: “Some leaks in water pipes are inevitable as pipes and fittings can wear out, corrode or be damaged by freezing weather or the weight of traffic on roads or gateways. What is important is to detect leaks as soon as possible and to make sure that they are repaired.”

The first thing to do is to work out how much your consumption should be. We’ve drawn up a table below showing how much water certain types of stock and activities use each day.

How much water do you use?

Cow with calf  50 litres a day
Dairy cow in milk  68 – 155 litres a day
Lactating sow   18 – 23 litres a day
Fattening pig   3 – 10 litres a day
Ewe with lamb 9 – 10.5 litres a day
Pregnant ewe  4 – 6.5 litres a day
Yearling beef cow 24-36 litres a day
Two-year-old beef cow 36-50 litres a day
Washing and cleaning the milking parlour  40 -60 litres a day per cow

* These levels will differ if stock have access to other water sources such as streams and ponds. If there are domestic properties on the meter add 140 litres per person per day for the number of people living there.

Use this to total up the amount of water used every day. If your consumption estimate is similar to your meter reading, then you probably haven’t got a leak.  If there is a considerable difference then there is unaccounted for usage which could be leakage.  

A good tip to determine whether you have a potential leak is to find your water meter in daylight and make sure it’s clean with easy access.  Then, in the middle of the night when nothing should be using water, take a photo of your meter with your phone. Repeat this an hour later and see if the meter reading has changed. If it has then this is a good indicator that you may have a leak.

To give an even more accurate indicator about water consumption, a logger device can be fitted to your meter that will record water usage every 15 minutes and feed the information back to your computer.

So, if you have a leak how do you find if?

Look at the obvious places such as water troughs, overflowing tanks, or wet patches in fields in summer. In addition, try and isolate sections of pipe to narrow the search down or use a listening stick, which uses mechanical amplification to pinpoint leaks. If you can’t locate the leak yourself seek the help of experienced leak detection technicians – don’t hope the problem goes way on its own because an unrepaired leak will continue to waste water, leading to higher bills.

Once the leak has been found you may be able to claim a leak allowance through your water retailer. To start this process, you will need to repair the leak as soon as possible and discuss the allowance criteria with them. If you are continually plagued by leaks because the pipe or fittings are old or corroded it’s usually cheaper and less disruptive to replace the pipe rather than paying out for many smaller, temporary repairs. 

Another way of protecting your business against the cost of mains water leakage is to install a private water supply using the natural resources available to many farms such as springs, streams and rivers, above and below ground.  The costs and disruption of installing a private supply will vary from site to site but many farmers are surprised at how quick – and cheap – this can be.