IT’S NOT JUST WATER – IT’S DOLLARS AND DROPS
Unlike the massive rain relief Texas received in May 2015, California remains in the clutches of extreme drought. The United States Drought Monitor estimates that almost 94% of the state is in “severe” to “exceptional” drought – with almost half the state experiencing “exceptional” drought – and over 37 million people affected.1 With summer just beginning and state reservoirs sitting at just over 54% of their average storage2, it is apparent that this is a situation that everyone – including water suppliers and customers – must pitch in to mitigate.
There is a new water reality in California and it’s increasing the urgency of effective conservation.
“Seasonal dryness, a potential for abnormal warmth, and poor snowpack conditions are likely to result in drought persistence and intensification across the West, with additional development possible over the Pacific Northwest. Over the Southwest, monsoonal thunderstorms are likely to bring highly localized relief, but climate anomalies associated with El Niño favor below normal monsoonal rainfall, making persistence the most likely outcome for Arizona and southeastern California.”3
SO HOW ARE WE DOING?
The California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) reported on 2 June 2015 that the state’s water conservation efforts have yielded a reduction in water use of 13.5 percent as compared to the same period in 2013 – an increase from the 3.9 percent reported in March 20154. That’s good news for the state’s water supply. However, only 77 of the 411 water suppliers (18.7%) reported meeting their state mandated conservation requirements. As expected, those suppliers with a smaller conservation requirement are leading the way in compliance with the State’s emergency regulations. Whereas 17 of 23 suppliers in the 8 percent reduction tier met their objectives, only 5 of 85 in the 36 percent tier met the standard.
Most importantly, the data suggests that smaller cities and municipalities in particular are struggling to meet their conservation requirements. The April data released by the California SWRCB indicates that of suppliers providing service to 10,000 to 500,000 people in the state, only 13.3 to 20 percent have met the conservation requirement.
The data indicates that while there is a concerted effort to reduce consumption, the time to achieve success is likely longer than policy makers expect, the tools for rapid conservation are not in place in the smaller communities, and the potential financial impact of conservation is not understood.
IT TAKES TIME & MONEY
For utilities, conservation without consideration of revenue is a fool’s errand.
Not only does conservation directly reduce revenue for utilities, but programs in support of demand reduction themselves can have significant costs. This lack of financial resources, as well as the fear of revenue destruction, can significantly hamper progress on conservation initiatives. In fact, most conservation schemes fail as a result of their impact on revenue – either the utility must raise rates to compensate which in turn raises the ire of customers or the conservation programs are limited in their scale and scope so as not to be excessively detrimental to revenue.
Rebate programs for shower heads, aerators, appliances and toilets are expensive and take time to implement. Turf removal and replacement with xeriscape or other low-water use plants takes significant effort and the effects are not likely to be realized for several months – particularly as new plantings initially require more water. Even rate hikes have a time lag associated with implementation as consumers are required to have time to react to the implementation of higher rates, as well as to the complete the necessary behavioral and infrastructure modifications to achieve reductions in consumption.9
The trend suggests that the tools and practices necessary to achieve conservation are not immediately available to smaller entities, and that those utilities are more likely feeling the financial pinch of demand destruction. With the highly fragmented nature of the water sector across the US, it is not surprising that there is a dearth of sophisticated tools available to smaller entities. Nor is it surprising that smaller utilities would have access to fewer financial resources, and be more susceptible to the impacts of revenue erosion.
THERE IS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS – LET’S GET THERE BETTER, FASTER & CHEAPER
FATHOM solves the conundrum of decreasing revenue in the face of conservation by maximizing the integrity of meter data within the utility, to ensure that all water is billed at the appropriate rates. By employing a geo-spatial, time-synchronized data model, sources of substantial revenue increases are uncovered. In one FATHOM installation, converting to Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) resulted in a 25.9% increase in billed volumes and an incremental annual revenue increase of $1.63 million.
This “found revenue” can go a long way to financing active conservation in utilities.
FATHOM achieves the duality of increased revenue and decreased consumption by:
- Fixing the data errors in systems to find lost revenue, significantly improving the utility’s financial position.
- Actively monitoring the health of the meter population and proactively notifying when replacing meters is required to preserve the accuracy of measurement and
- Providing customers with highly granular, instantaneous data, along with alerts based on usage and costs, to increase awareness of water use and decrease consumption.
- Combining highly granular consumption data with Customer Information System and georeferenced spatial data, identifying instantaneous water loss.
In addition, FATHOM is offered in a software-as-a-service which eliminates capital outlay for technology adoption, reduces the operating costs associated with advanced tools, and results in deployments in 60 to 90 days – dramatically increasing access for small to mid-size utilities.
Solving the water and financial volatility issues rapidly and effectively will be a key hallmark of sustainable cities and will provide a unique competitive advantage for those cities over other jurisdictions. Improving how we use temporal and spatial quality of water data will not only allow our utilities to achieve the conservation requirements that are clearly necessary during this drought, but will allow them to do so in a financially sound manner.
1http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/StateDroughtMonitor.aspx?CA (accessed 11 June 2015)
2http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/reservoirs/RES (accessed 11 June 2015)
3http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/expert_assessment/sdo_summary.html (accessed 11 June 2015)
9Hill, T., Symmonds, G., The Smart Grid for Water: How Data Will Save Our Water and Your Utility, Advantage Publishing, 2013.