March 20, 2015

To One Billion, and Beyond!

Back in 2009 WaterSmart put in motion what can only be described as a veritable tidal wave. We wanted to change the way the world uses water, so we designed a way to better communicate information about water consumption to households and water utilities. Armed with this easy-to-understand information and personalized suggestions on ways to save water and money, people started saving. Just a gallon here and there at first, but the results were real. Some early calculations implied that some of our customers improved their water-use efficiency by 2, 3, or even 4 percent compared with households that weren’t receiving detailed consumption reports.

And then we reached a milestone. An independent consulting team evaluated a pilot program we ran with the East Bay Municipal Utility District in 2012 (thanks to David Mitchell and Tom Chestnutt). The evaluation, financed by the California Water Foundation (also thanks to Lester Snow), found that on average, households receiving our Home Water Reports saved 5% more water than those that didn’t. Not only that, customer engagement in utility incentive and rebate programs tripled while customer satisfaction doubled. Needless to say, we were thrilled with the results, which strongly validated what we had known for some time.

After that things started to accelerate. We raised venture capital to grow the team and improve the technology, and we grew our relationship with EBMUD. We went on to sign dozens of utility partners and brought more household data into our platform. We now manage data for 2 million water meters throughout the United States.  And, not surprisingly, the water savings grew. We went back to our early data set, and with the help of our Data Scientist, Will Holleran, calculated how much each of our partners had saved and what the likely trajectory of savings would be into the future. We continued to revisit this calculation and revise our estimates as each new program we deployed was evaluated. It turns out we were underestimating the savings growth and revised our estimates upward.

Which leads me to the primary point of this post. WaterSmart has now saved over 1 billion gallons of water. That’s a lot of agua. In water industry terms 1 billion gallons is equal to 3,068 acre-feet. That’s roughly enough water to supply a city of 30,000 people for an entire year. To be fair, that’s really only a drop in the bucket (pardon the unavoidable water pun).

Yet this is only the beginning. Remember that our mission is to change the way the WORLD uses water. That means everyone. Not just people in arid regions that are suffering from drought or water resource stress. So how do we intend to do that?

First of all, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. The need for improved water-use efficiency and greater education on the sources and uses of water has never been more urgent. The next billion gallons will certainly come much more quickly than the first billion.

We also have plans on ways of helping water utilities better manage their operations. This past week happened to be Fix a Leak Week. It’s estimated that water utilities throughout the United States lose 20% of their water to infrastructure leaks. By identifying sources of leaks, reducing system pressure, and improving financial stability, our municipal and investor owned water utilities will be better prepared to invest in much needed distribution system upgrades to address these losses and secure our precious water supplies for future generations. We are working on some exciting new solutions that will address these and other challenges the water industry faces.

We couldn’t be more excited by our most recent accomplishment and for what the future holds for WaterSmart. However, our enthusiasm is tempered by a realistic acknowledgment of the challenges that our world faces in addressing the numerous issues surrounding improved water management. We are doing our best to be part of a multi-pronged solution. In the end, however, the solution starts with each of us recognizing the problem, educating each other on possible solutions, and doing our own small part to change our behavior and become more water efficient.

We hope you’ll continue to join us in our mission, and here’s to the next billion.

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