“Customers don’t like to see water waste,” says Ed Archuleta

Ed Archuleta, a water-conservation and desalination pioneer who changed the economic fate of the once-parched city of El Paso, has been named to the advisory board of a California company aiming to market its water-saving data analytics programs to water utilities in Texas.

The company, San Francisco-based WaterSmart Software Inc., currently serves nearly 50 utilities in drought-prone states and boasts that it has helped save more than 1 billion gallons of water to date. Archuleta, as an advisory board member, will help with strategic planning, industry relations and product development.

WaterSmart markets its aggregation and analytical water-use tools to water utilities eager to enhance financial control, improve water-use efficiency and boost customer satisfaction with money-saving options.

Archuleta, the former president and CEO of El Paso Water Utilities, says his new role is an updated, technology-assisted version of methods he relied on to renew water supplies in a Texas border city whose residents and businesses, in 1989, desperately needed such help.

An engineer by profession, Archuleta recognized that data crunching of water use patterns could become an effective tool in changing behavior, but he also understood the concept of customer engagement. Customer buy-in, through education and empowerment, would prove critical if El Paso was to shed its parched image.

“We introduced the whole issue of conservation. We introduced the whole issue of xeriscaping. We introduced reclaimed water, purple pipe water, desalination,” he recalled in an interview with Texas Energy Report.

“We built a big, bilingual education center in El Paso called Tech H20. We did a lot. We felt like we needed to spend a lot of money and time on the customers’ needs and the customers’ understanding,” he said.

Public enthusiasm for water projects and how they translate into shared prosperity remained key as El Paso constructed the nation’s largest arsenic treatment plant and the world’s largest inland desalination facility.

The Pentagon and U.S. Army officials, having noticed that El Paso was located in a water-strained area, had grown reluctant to reinvest in Fort Bliss, Archuleta said. But, the local water utility convinced the military to lease it property for the desalination plant, and in return, the utility would sell Fort Bliss all the water it needed.

The deal led to a $6 billion investment that tripled the size of Fort Bliss in just five years to an installation employing 100,000 people, including civilian jobs.

“They understand a lot more the value of water,” Archuleta said of today’s water customers in El Paso. “Water (as well as electric power) means economic development for any city. If you want to have economic development, you have to have water to go with that. More and more people began to understand it’s not just the residential use of that water. It means everything for the community.”

Early on, El Paso residents began learning about the success of their own water conservation efforts via a front-page, water analytics update box in the local newspaper. Archuleta said the information derived from cross-referencing data, only the data were collected the old-fashioned, long and painstaking way.

At WaterSmart, now in its fifth year of operation, new technologies mean water customers can now tap into interactive analytics products offered by water utilities to manage personal water use just as electric customers now do to save energy.

“Now we have the software, we have the tools that I had to do somewhat manually,” Archuleta said. “It’s a great tool that you have, along with other tools, to manage water. You have to be smart in how you design your rate structure, and you can do it with analytical information. It allows a way, through this, to engage the customers. When I started in this business, we were pretty much the silent utility.”

Before taking the helm at El Paso Water Utilities, where he served for 24 years, Archuleta served as deputy director of Public Works at Albuquerque, New Mexico and as a project engineer for two different consulting engineering firms.

Archuleta, who served on the National Infrastructure Council under President George W. Bush and now chairs the Pecos River Commission for President Barack Obama, also chairs Texas Accelerate H20, a recently formed clearinghouse for Texas $9 billion water technology market.

With WaterSmart Software, he said, customers learn not only about how to manage water demand but also more about water supplies.

“You’re able to tell the customers that they’re doing everything possible to do a better job of managing water,” he said. “Customers don’t like to see water wasted.”

By Polly Ross Hughes, www.texasenergyreport.com.