A CONTRAST OF SCALE: IT’S A BIG, BIG WORLD
The continuing drought across the northern hemisphere is massive in scale and scope. In North America, California remains gripped in extreme drought conditions with 46%1 of the state characterized as being in “exceptional drought.” Even places not typically associated with drought are being impacted. In Florida, 45%2 of the state has been classified as “abnormally dry” to “extreme drought” and 56%3 of Alaska is “abnormally dry” or in “moderate drought.” And weather and climate patterns do not respect man-made borders: our Canadian neighbors are also being hit hard with the effects of water scarcity, resulting in water use restrictions, increased pressure on agriculture and a dramatic increase in wildfire activity. Water utilities are at the focal point of this crisis, particularly as data suggests that the volatility in the water cycle is increasing,6 wildfire seasons are lengthening7 and those fires are encroaching on populated areas. And the effects being experienced in 2015 are likely to persist for the remainder of the year and extend into 2016, as reported by CBC:8
More worrisome, though, than the sight of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia wilting under 30 degree [C] temperatures in June and July — and rationing scarce water supplies in some areas — is that this might just be the start of an even bigger problem. Many meteorologists are chalking up today’s weird and wacky weather in the West to the fact that this is an El Nino year, referring to the cyclical Pacific Ocean phenomenon that disrupts global weather patterns. The problem with that, according to Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips: “It’s not even arrived in Canada yet. We don’t see the effects of El Nino until late fall, winter and early spring,” he says. What that likely means is at least three more consecutive seasons of warmer, drier weather when farmers are already, quite literally, tapped out in the moisture department. As for what that could mean for drought conditions next summer and beyond, Phillips says it’s “not looking good.”
…RELYING ON A FRAGMENTED INDUSTRY
The global scale of water volatility contrasts sharply with the local scale of the water industry. The United States water industry is a highly fragmented and skewed sector, with over 94% of the water systems being classified as small (service populations of less than 3,300 people) and very small (service populations of less than 500 people) public water systems.9 The reason for this is simple: water is heavy and difficult to move. It is much simpler – and cheaper – to build a new utility than expand or consolidate existing utilities. This lack of scale means many utilities lack sufficient resources to develop and access the managerial and technical tools necessary to address the significant problems facing the water industry:
Small public water systems (PWSs) serving 10,000 or fewer people face multiple challenges in providing safe drinking water. These challenges include: lack of financial resources, aging infrastructure, cost of scale, management limitations, lack of long-term planning, and difficulty understanding current and future regulations.10
This inefficient distribution of public water systems results in serious performance penalties for the sector. Complicating the issue is the myriad of regulatory agencies overseeing the sector: each municipality/district sets its own rates and is governed by local, county, state and federal agencies. Investor-owned utilities have an additional layer of economic regulation by public utilities commissions administered by each state.
In the end, the response to global drought must, by definition, be developed and implemented by the smallest of entities: our water companies. Water remains, as it has always been, an intensely localcommodity.
EMPOWERING UTILITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY
There’s no shortage of technologies; there’s a shortage of business models and channels to market.
Technology can facilitate significant local and regional response to drought conditions. Solutions exist today that provide customer engagement, revenue assurance, water quality tracking, leak detection, regulatory reporting, hydraulic modelling, planning and asset management – and a myriad of other services – offering significant value to utilities as they battle water scarcity and water volatility.
Unlike water, which gets increasingly scarce in drought, crisis drives technological innovation like no other. The problem is that many of these technologies are simply not suited for the reality of the water industry. The lengthy sales cycles, scarcity of channels to market and lack of business models in the water industry preclude mass adoption of technologies by utilities. Further, there are significant challenges for small utilities to acquire, deploy and successfully utilize technology at these diseconomies of scale.
OPENING THE TECHNOLOGY FLOODGATES: THE FATHOM STORE
The FATHOM platform and its software-as-a-service (SaaS) architecture allows any water system with an internet connection to access highly functioning tools to improve operations, sustainability and response to increasing water volatility. FATHOM provides an open framework, omogenizing all types of data including different metering system and methodology data, compliance reporting data, laboratory data, operational data, distributed sensor data and more. FATHOM is truly technology agnostic, allowing water systems to use FATHOM with any technology they currently have or plan to acquire.
Once these data systems are accessible, the ability to perform cross-platform and cross-utility analyses will be catalytic for utilities and technology companies.
The FATHOM Store has been developed specifically for this purpose. Serving as a platform and data source for new development, the FATHOM Store accelerates innovation. Most importantly, however, it solves a long-standing issue for technology companies and utilities: a lack of channels to market. Through the FATHOM Store, technology service providers can offer subscription-based service models and utilities of all sizes can have access to the tools needed to successfully manage their systems.
Utilities of all sizes can now successfully use technology to manage global water volatility in an easy to adopt, easy to procure, low risk, pay as you go manner.
1http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA (accessed 28 July 2015)
2http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?FL (accessed 28 July 2015)
3http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?AK (accessed 28 July 2015)
4http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/data/pdfs/20150721/20150721_usdm.pdf (accessed 27 July 2015) (Download the PDF)
5http://www5.agr.gc.ca/resources/prod/doc/pfra/maps/nrt/nl_dnm_pdi_s_e.pdf (accessed 27 July 2015) (Download the PDF)
6P. J. Durack et al., “Ocean Salinities Reveal Strong Global Water Cycle Intensification during 1950 to 2000,” Science 336 (2012):455
7Jolly, W. M. et al. Climate-induced variations in global wildfire danger from 1979 to 2013. Nat. Commun. 6:7537 doi: 10.1038/
10USEPA, National Characteristics of Drinking Water Systems Serving 10,000 or Fewer People, Office of Water (4606M), EPA 816-R-
10-022 July 2011