“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need,”
– Rolling Stones (1969, Let It Bleed album)
The recent California drought has many lessons for water managers and policy-makers regarding drought management. Perhaps the greatest lesson is on the possibility of economic resilience when water is well managed.
For the last few years, California essentially lost about 33% of its normal water supply due to drought. Yet in spite of often several local impacts, the state overall saw an undetectable loss of jobs and economic production. During this period, agricultural production, about 2% of California’s economy, saw net revenues reduced by 3% along with the loss of 10,000 jobs in the face of leaving over 6,000 acres of irrigable farm land fallow. Yet, high commodity prices and continued shifts to higher valued crops (such as almonds, with more … see more
Water utilities are increasingly evaluating new metering technologies to reduce non-revenue water, drive down operational costs of data collection, and gain greater visibility into meter asset health. From the utility’s perspective these are all sound business reasons for making what is often a substantial investment in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI).
But how do these investments help the residential customer? Are water prices reduced as a result of these utility cost reductions? Unfortunately not. Utilities have to recover the cost of these hardware investments and many districts are not generating sufficient revenue to cover their basic operational expenses, let alone enough to make long-term investments in new capital projects.
One of the other key benefits of AMI investments that utilities and meter vendors tout are improved levels of customer engagement. Real-time interval data from water meters provides greater visibility into water consumption patterns. This data stream allows utilities to identify … see more
The California drought has grabbed America’s attention, but our water problems — and the coming scarcity — stem from a lot more than a few years of diminished rain and snow. The U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council predicts that, in less than 10 years, many large countries will be at risk of “state failure,” directly due to the global water crisis.
To explain what caused this problem, check out this infographic.
The causes of the water crisis are global, as are its effects, which will only become more commonplace for Americans. It affects everyone from farms in the American Great Plains to crowded cities in South Africa. Even now, much of the western United States is already at tipping point, as we saw in 2015 with the water crisis in California.
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
We are very pleased to announce that in March of 2016 WaterSmart Software officially became a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC). A Benefit Corporation is a new legal designation in 22 states so far that allows us to legally and officially recognize a purpose beyond maximizing shareholder value (as “normal” corporate status requires), by considering the public benefits of our work. In short, when we make decisions from now on we are now legally obligated to consider not just the impact on our finances and our shareholders, but also on the environment, our community, and our stakeholders including our employees, customers, and partners.
The legal designation of a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) is a recent development – the State of Delaware (where WaterSmart and about half of all US companies are incorporated) made this designation available in 2013. The importance of this designation shouldn’t be understated and it’s not getting nearly … see more
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
Water and energy are intimately linked: no energy, no water; no water, no energy. Just one example – there is a huge amount of energy embedded in every drop of water. For example, 19% of California’s electricity is used in the heating, extraction, transportation and treatment of water.
At WaterSmart, we bridge the digital & physical worlds of water; we are using powerful network effects to do so; and we are using big data, in the cloud, to solve a critical resource problem. Water is delicious, essential, and irreplaceable. You would think we would take better care of it.
The World Economic Forum identified Water as the #1 global risk for 2015 in terms of potential impact. This isn’t very surprising surprising: there’s about the same amount of water around today as 4 billion years ago, but there 7 billion more people, on the way to 8 billion. More of … see more
Utility executives have never been under more pressure. A growing number of factors are making life more difficult for most water suppliers. Challenges such as unpredictable weather patterns, water quality crises, long term droughts, huge capital investment requirements, population growth and urbanization are all having impacts – right now – beyond anything their predecessors dealt with or imagined.
In times of difficulty, the ability to effectively prioritize delivers outsize returns. So it is worth taking a moment to focus on the critical imperatives that drive success or failure for a modern water utility. In our book, it doesn’t count as prioritization if the list has 27 items, so we have boiled it down to the three basics.
- Quality of Service
Traditionally, “Job Number One” for utility managers was to maintain Quality of Service. They pursued this to the exclusion of all else, and spent their effort on maintaining operations
2015 proved to be another weird weather year around the country, especially for Texas. 80 degrees and dry in Austin on Christmas Day, spring wildflowers in bloom, and kids playing outside in shorts – a surprise ending to a wild ride of drought followed by devastating floods followed by drought and then more floods.
Texas is used to drought-flood cycles and extreme weather, but last year the pendulum seemed to swing wildly from one to the next. And climate models predict intense swings for the future as well: After the next flood is another drought, which will likely be more intense and longer than usual due to climate change.
Unfortunately, it seems like during our brief respites from drought, we also take a break from thinking about water scarcity. After the year we’ve just had, this should not be the case – water security should be at the top of … see more
A Front Page Nightmare
It is every water utility manager’s worst nightmare: your town made the front page of the national news because of contaminated drinking water. That’s the situation that Flint, Michigan is in right now. Virtually all of the city’s 100,000 people have been exposed to lead poisoning and other contaminants from corroded distribution pipes.
The water crisis in Flint originated in 2014 when, in an attempt to save money, it made the decision to switch its source of drinking water from Lake Huron to the Flint River. This new water source, while less expensive to procure, was more corrosive to the pipes and leached lead into the distribution system. Now some or all of the distribution system may need to be replaced, which could cost the nearly bankrupt city as much as $1.5 billion.
So what can the situation in Flint teach water utilities … see more