MIAMI VICE: WATER SQUAD
Directly on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts with its roughly 52 inches of rainfall annually,1 southern Florida may not be a place you would expect to encounter drought, but they too are dealing with increased water volatility. South Florida as a unique climate that is split in two distinct meteorological periods: the five-month rainy season from June through October which produces 70 percent of the annual rainfall and the seven-month dry season from November through May.2
With their major sources of drinking water being dependent on the replenishment of aquifers with rainwater, any interruption or disturbance in that natural delivery system can have immediate impacts for residents—particularly during the much needed rainy season. With rainfall lagging 11 to 14 inches from historic averages, The National Weather Service3, the US Drought Monitor4 and the South Florida Water Management District5 (SFWMD) have all issued assessments of water scarcity. In fact, over 25 percent of the state’s population lives in areas that are currently characterized as being in Severe to Extreme Drought.6
CROCKETT AND TUBBS, A.K.A. THE STICK
In response to continued indications that water volatility will impact drinking water supplies, the state adopted Florida Administrative Code Chapter 40E-24 “Mandatory Year-Round Landscape Irrigation Measures Conservation Measures” on 14 July 2014.7 The goal of Chapter 40E-24 is to reduce outside irrigation use by limiting landscape irrigation water use to two days per week and prohibiting irrigation during those periods of the day when irrigation efficiency significantly decreases. The rule also encourages users “to apply no more than 3/4-inch to 1-inch of water per week on their lawns and landscapes and only as needed to supplement rainfall.”
Unfortunately, users lack both the availability and granularity of data to meet the regulatory requirment and it’s herein that lies the problem. The broad application of mandates without the means for individuals to manage or monitor their usage results in ineffective policies. While outside irrigation controllers can be programmed, it is rare that they incorporate flow measurement or rainfall sensors— particularly at the residential scale. As such, the rule provides aspirational exhortations to use less water, with no mechanisms for water users to effectively do so.
And yet, those who do not comply face punishment. The expectation is that “it shall be the duty of each water user to keep informed as to the landscape irrigation conservation measures presented within this chapter, which affect each particular water use.”8 Even further, Chapter 40E-24 F.A.C. affirmatively requires that an alleged violation of the watering restrictions be investigated:
(1) As required by Section 373.609, F.S., each county and city commission, state and county attorney, sheriff, police officer and other appropriate local government official in the region covered by this chapter which is not implementing alternative landscape irrigation conservation measures pursuant to a local government ordinance, shall respond to address-specific or location-specific violations of this chapter upon request from the District [emphasis added].9
This is a very expensive method of achieving compliance with the objective of Chapter 40E-24. And in many ways it’s counter-productive.
DATA AND ENGAGEMENT, A.K.A. THE CARROT
If utilities have learned anything over the past two decades about customer engagement and behavioral modification, it is that 1) customer expectations are changing and that 2) the blind use of regulatory measures to achieve compliance with environmental goals is ineffective. With the widespread adoption of social media tools and modern communication methods, our customers are demanding we engage them in a meaningful dialogue about conservation. In addition, it is simply not enough to place the onus on the customer to change; they also expect us to provide them the tools necessary for them to achieve that change.
While enforcing watering restrictions is important, employing first responders to enforce these restrictions is not a cost effective way of managing compliance. A typical call attended to by a police department in the United States incurs $50 to $150 in labor and vehicle costs10, and these personnel are unlikely to be immediately available to perform any investigative service. They are also unlikely to be in the vicinity to stumble upon water waste by chance.
The costs of enforcement can easily exceed the cost of the infraction. While it may certainly act as a deterrent and fines can be imposed to recover these costs, the fact is that without data, agencies will continue to expend time and resources in a reactive attempt at curtailing outside water use. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely they will catch anyone “in the act.”
COST EFFECTIVE AND CUSTOMER-FOCUSED COMPLIANCE
A significantly more cost effective way to incentivize and monitor compliance with watering restrictions is through the use of powerful engagement tools. The FATHOM meter data management and customer presentment tools combine the best of data, analytics and presentment to provide a geospatial, timesynchronized understanding of where and when water is being used—transforming water data into information for utilities and customers.
Combined with an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installation, communities not only have the means to understand exactly when water is being used, they have the data to understand the specific volume/time relationship of the usage which can be used to indicate specific types of usage, such as outside irrigation. With this highly granular data, municipalities can engage directly with their customers, educating them on current conditions and long-term trends while encouraging them to take proactive steps to change their consumption.
While we may want to see Crockett and Tubbs roll up in a Ferrari Testarossa to nab the water wasters,
there’s a better, faster, cheaper way to encourage conservation and compliance: data and analytics.
3http://forecast.weather.gov/product.php?site=MFL&issuedby=MFL&product=DGT&format=CI&version=1&glossary=0 (accessed 10 Aug 2015)
5http://www.sfwmd.gov/portal/page/portal/xweb%20weather/rainfall%20historical%20%28year-to-date%29 (accessed 10 Aug 2015)
6http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/MapsAndData/DataTables.aspx?state,FL (Accessed 10 Aug 15)
8F.A.C. Chapter 40E-24.201(3)
9F.A.C 40E-24.401 Enforcement