What Water Utilities Can Learn From the Donald Trump Phenomenon

trump

No one can really say how long the Donald Trump presidential campaign will last. If you told most veteran journalists or political junkies a year ago that Trump would be a front-runner through the late summer and fall of 2015, few would believe you. But Donald Trump has certainly been successful (still polling #1 in most national polls as of the first week of December). Love him or hate him, his campaign illustrates many of our natural human biases and tendencies – either intentionally or unintentionally. Here are three prime examples that could be relevant to water utilities:

#1 – Shorter is better

Political campaigns, or at least the successful ones, are all about communication. Not all candidates communicate effectively or memorably, but Donald Trump is a clear outlier. His messages are big, simple, and memorable. While there may be other candidates who have more in-depth policy priorities or … see more

Punishing Efficiency

Punishing_Efficiency-01

With the passing of several years since the Great Recession, citizens and governments are making fitful progress in repairing their broken balance sheets. However, everyone remains concerned with mitigating risks to growth. Among other efforts, advanced economies have continued to reduce their exposure to oil supply or price shocks. Yet oil is just one of a number of energy sources on which economic growth depends, and for many it will form a decreasing part of their portfolios in the coming decades.

This is partly due to the rise of new sources of energy. We now have access to much cleaner forms of energy such as natural gas. We also have ‘renewable’ sources in greater quantities in the form of solar, wind, wave, geo-thermal, bio-diesel, and others.

In addition, we have seen steady improvements in energy efficiency as well as ongoing decreases in energy-intensive activities as our economies are driven … see more

Two Billion Gallons…and Counting

2billion_infographicV4

In March of this year we made the announcement that we had cumulatively saved one billion gallons of water. That was nearly 4 years to the day from the launch of our first utility customer in Cotati, California. This was a momentous occasion for WaterSmart and represented further validation of our business model, as well as an affirmation of our mission to change the way the world uses water.

Now, just a short 8 months later, we can hardly believe that we recently passed our second billion gallons of water saved. Not only have our utility partners and their customers saved a lot of water, but they’ve also saved nearly $13,000,000 as well as avoided 20,000 tons of Co2 emissions from the energy used to heat and transport that water. We are witnessing our mission in action.

So, what does two billion gallons mean? A one followed by nine … see more

Data is a Girl’s Best Friend

Data Girl Drawing

“A hunch after lunch might be quite consequential, but data is a girl’s best friend.”

While Marilyn Monroe was focused on diamonds sixty years ago, the most valuable asset for today’s utilities and the partners who work with them is data. Looking at aggregate production numbers across an entire customer base does not provide the insight necessary to predict and shape future customer behavior. The ability to capture data at the individual customer level, and use that data to inform strategic and tactical plans, is fundamental in today’s dynamic utility environment.

We recently noted that many utilities WaterSmart serves have varying watering restrictions in place. Some have ordinances for two-days-per-week watering; others for three-days-per-week watering, and others had time of day restrictions but no limit on the number of total days. Fire safety, plant health, revenue and water supply conditions all played a role in these differences.

As we began … see more

Wherefore art thou El Niño

el_nino-01

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

measureWaterSaving_blog_headV2

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

The Intersection of Land Use Management and Water Security

landUse_header

Water conservation practices are just one component of a sustainable and resilient water system. Many more variables are involved, including protection of water quality of neighboring bodies of water, decrease of flooding in low-lying areas and minimization of erosion of local streams and hill-slopes. Here at WaterSmart we are deeply interested in increasing awareness of these issues, since the public’s relationship with and influence on their water system extends far beyond the boundaries of improved efficiency. In particular, land use practices are closely related to water supply availability, ecosystem health, and water quality. These practices present valuable opportunities for innovation moving forward. Looking to the future, communications around land use issues will be an increasingly important touch-point between water managers and their customers, and it is an area of growing interest in the broader environmental community.

Land use patterns are a leading cause of urban water pollution in the United … see more

Four Ways Design Thinking Can Transform e-Government

egov_final

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

Why Customer Engagement Matters to the Whole Urban Water Cycle

blog-chart-urbanWaterCycleV3

The importance of water-use management

There’s a tendency to think customer engagement is most valuable when supply is under stress, which is the case in many states. While that’s the easiest way to see how customer engagement benefits utility operations, the reality is that consumer engagement for demand management offers real financial benefits regardless of the availability of water supply. A recent Water Research Foundation Study, Toolbox for Water Utility Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emission Management, reveals how water use management is the key driver in determining the volume of raw water that must be acquired, stored, treated and distributed. This also applies to determining how well combined sewer systems handle rainfall. Thus water demand management embodies a key lever in addressing infrastructure issues.

When its necessary to implement droughtsensitive water use programs, targeted customer … see more