The U.S. Water Fragmentation Conundrum

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United States Water Systems
The United States has a very unusual and fragmented network of water systems. There are over 150,000 water systems in the United States serving nearly 320 million Americans. That’s an average of roughly 2,000 individuals per utility. Clearly water fragmentation is a reality in this country.

The UK, by comparison, has only 32 regulated water utilities that serve a population of around 64 million which equates to approximately 2 million users per utility. Australia looks similarly consolidated with nearly 19 million people (out of a population of 23 million) served by just 82 water suppliers. This equals about 230,000 people per utility.

Over 286 million Americans get their tap water from a community water system. 8 percent of the community water systems—large municipal water systems—provide water to 82 percent of the US population.

There are several different types of water systems in the United … see more

Drought Shaming vs. Social Comparison – What’s the Difference?

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The California drought has given way to a prevalent new phenomenon of “drought shaming” – Californians have taken to social media to snitch on each other’s water-wasting habits. If you search #droughtshaming on Twitter, you will find hundreds of people calling out their neighbors for wasting water and posting pictures of the infraction. Some water agencies have even built apps to make it easy for residents to tattle on each other. While this is one approach to raising awareness about water use, I would argue that turning drought into a finger-pointing game is not the right reaction. WaterSmart’s behavioral science approach of using social comparison to encourage conservation has sometimes been conflated with drought shaming; Environmental Leader called it a “shame program” earlier this year.

Drought shaming and social comparison do have some distinctive similarities. Both take advantage of the innate human instinct to fit in with the … see more

Forecasting the top 5 water trends in 2016

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As the dawn of 2016 emerges and we look forward to the year ahead, it’s instructive to engage in a little prognostication. While none of us claim the clairvoyance of Nostradamus, there are some clear trends that began to take hold in 2015 to inform our outlook on the top 5 water trends in the coming year. With that inelegant preamble behind us, let’s begin the soothsaying!

[bctt tweet=”How are the top forecast water trends of 2016 shaping up?” username=”getwatersmart”]
  1. Up, Up, Up:
    What’s going up? Well, nearly everything. As the globe continues to recover from the economic chaos beginning in late 2007, interest rates are slowly rising, increasing borrowing costs for needed infrastructure investments. Labor markets are tightening, making it harder to find qualified workers at affordable rates in the face of a spate of utility retirements. Water costs across the country are rising in many markets
… see more

Wherefore art thou El Niño

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So it appears that El Nino is nearly upon us. Or at least that’s what many pundits are predicting. Pacific ocean temperature levels have been rising and appear to be equivalent to those in the 1997-1998 period when we experienced the largest El Nino event on record which led to record precipitation throughout the Western United States.

While this will potentially bring much needed rain to drought stricken regions of the country, there are a number of factors that indicate both short and long-term challenges that our water delivery and treatment systems will continue to face.

In the short term, excessive precipitation will likely lead to mudslides and floods, particularly given the parched conditions that have persisted over the past four years. Extensive periods of drought and record wildfires have left charred, dry, and barren areas that make mudslides more likely. In addition, storm water overflows will impact … see more

Reliably Measuring Water Savings

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Measuring changes in water consumption can be a tricky business. Most homes in the United States have only a single water meter that is read bi-monthly. This makes it challenging to determine changes in consumption patterns from period to period, or to identify what approaches to encouraging water-use efficiency are actually most effective.

As a water utility manager, this makes it hard to decide how to invest limited resources to improve operational efficiency, extend asset lifetimes, or better engage with customers. This is where the scientific method, and more specifically, scientific control, comes into play. The idea behind scientific control is to run an experiment that identifies the effect of a single (or independent) variable on a treatment group in comparison to a group that does not receive treatment (the control group). If the only difference between the treatment group and the control group is the independent variable, then … see more

Imagining A Day Without Water

daywithout_blogHEADER-03The Value of Water Coalition is launching a national advocacy campaign today, Tuesday October 6th, called Imagine A Day Without Water. The goal of the campaign is to not only educate people about the value of water, but to drive changes in water use behavior to create more resilient and sustainable water systems for our collective future.

Here at WaterSmart, we thought for a long-time about what a day without water might look like, and how WaterSmart could contribute to the dialog in a unique manner that is consistent with our mission. What we ended up with is a slightly different take than what might be expected from the campaign topic.

For us, one of the most critical activities that we can embark on is to educate all classes of consumers on the value of water. Historically the cost, price, and value of water have not been … see more

Four Ways Design Thinking Can Transform e-Government

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When you reflect on the last time you interacted with a public institution, it likely tested your patience. If that experience was digital, it may have been buggy, cobwebbed with bureaucratic language, and fixated on pushing you back into the analog world with a form to print out. If we look closer at the ways government services miss the mark, we see an exciting design opportunity. We’re lucky to live this opportunity every day at WaterSmart, supporting water utilities with world-class digital tools, while building on the best practices documented by civic technology leaders such as the UK’s Digital Service, US Digital Service, and Code for America.

  1. Deliver Digital Services Instead of Websites

When public institutions try to “go digital”, that often means carving out a presence on the Web and calling it a day. While this checks a box, it doesn’t get citizens any closer to … see more

Generating a Thirst for Water Information

Nearly every modern convenience is powered by electricity. We expect lights to immediately come on when we flick the switch and we always want our computers and mobile phones to boot up when we turn them on. If we don’t have access to power, our lives creep to a virtual halt. We can’t work. We can’t cook. We can’t do any of the things that we consider part of normal, modern day life. Energy powers our economy and is correlated with trillions of dollars in global economic activity. No wonder media organizations devote so many resources to covering the energy industry. It’s incredibly important. People need to know what is happening with energy production, consumption, and the impacts that energy has on our environment and our daily lives. It makes sense.

Well, what about water? It’s everywhere. It’s in streams, lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers. It flows endlessly from our … see more

Thinking Outside the Bill

A water utility looking to build better relationships with their customers is often dealt a pretty lean hand. Common communication channels include a newsletter, a modest web-presence, bill stuffers, and—most prominently—the bill itself. The bill experience is predictable. A customer will sort out bills from an overflowing mailbox or inbox, skim through dense rows of numbers and tables, and zero in on the amount owed. If it seems generally similar to what was owed previously, they won’t give it much further thought—even less so if the customer is on auto-pay.

And why should they? It can be difficult to understand units on a bill (CCF? CF? HCF?) and most people believe they already use water judiciously. The bill doesn’t have much of a story to tell other than how much lighter their wallet will be when the check clears. With water, that amount is often too low in comparison … see more

Fix a Leak Week In Action…

This week is EPA WaterSense’s Fix a Leak Week – an annual event designed to bring awareness to the issue of household leaks, and to remind Americans to check their fixtures and irrigation systems.

Lately, our nation’s leaky water infrastructure has been a hot topic for discussion. The American Civil Society of Engineers gave US drinking water infrastructure a “D” grade; the system is in need of at least $1 trillion investment in the next 20 years. This is becoming evidently apparent as cities across the US are dealing with emergency pipe bursts and water main breaks. The pipe break this past summer at UCLA, which spewed more than eight million gallons of water, garnered an especially large amount of media attention. Since then, the LA Times has reported that the city has a $1 billion aging-infrastructure problem on their hands.

Leaks and infrastructure deficiencies are a problem … see more