WATER DEPLETION AND THE CUSTOMER
As water managers, it is our responsibility to project both water availability and use – and our customers expect that we will ensure that the availability will always exceed their use. We have become quite good at predicting usage with reasonable certainty given a specific mix of residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural uses. Our estimates of availability on the other hand, are at best shrouded in the mists of prognostication or at worse simply a mirage of ignorance.
THE CERTAINTY OF UNCERTAINTY
While we are continually developing our ability to predict the impacts of climate change on surface water and groundwater availability, it’s not as accurate as it needs to be – particularly with groundwater.
With surface water we have a visual reinforcement of availability. However, with groundwater there are few data points from which to assess the availability of water – and that has led to us historically overestimate the storage of water in aquifers. This is a fundamental issue as groundwater is currently the primary source of freshwater for approximately two billion people1 on earth. If the expectation is to rely on groundwater during drought conditions, we need to understand where it is, how much there is and how quickly we are using it.
In an attempt to do just this, satellites have recently been used to estimate the volume of water stored in aquifers through remote sensing. The results are alarming – the water stored within 37 of the earth’s largest aquifers may be overstated by several orders of magnitude.2 Further, 16 of these 37 aquifers are characterized as being in an Overstress, Human-dominated Stress or Variable Stress condition.1 This has significant impacts on understanding how we are to survive in an increasingly water scarce world and this uncertainty in availability combined with the stress on groundwater results in some disturbing possibilities. In fact, recent studies indicate that the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System could be depleted to 90% of its total storage in as few as 50 years.2
WRESTLING CONTROL FROM UNCERTAINTY
With the continuing uncertainty in availability of groundwater and the impacts that climate change is having on the volatility of surface water and our natural water delivery mechanisms, we are left with the ponderous question: What can we do?
Clearly, we need to be better at managing our water supplies and better at adapting to volatility. Our models need better data, and our utilities and their
constituents need a better understanding of how, when and where water is being used. One of the primary means of affecting that understanding is by providing
consumption information to customers. It is critical, however, that this information be both timely and relevant.
Informing customers of usage 30 to 60 days in arrears does little to achieve timeliness. To encourage changes in behavior, utilities need to communicate to their customers in near-real time which will require an investment in advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). AMI increases the granularity of data by three orders of magnitude and through an integrated customer presentment portal, customers with AMI-equipped meters can see their consumption at hourly time intervals. With this near-real time information, customers can connect their actions with their water use, greatly increasing their understanding of how they are using water. Further, it allows for immediate identification of leaks and other usage anomalies.
Utilities must also present information to their customers in a manner and context that facilitates understanding and encourages behavior change to be relevant. This means that utilities need to speak to customers in terms they understand. A 2010 study into the effectiveness of smart energy devices found that for customers, “kilowatt hours and carbon dioxide emissions were both dismissed as being ‘meaningless’…money was the metric of choice for most interviewees.”3 Another study noted that adoption of smart energy appliances was based on the perceived financial benefits:
“There are two main reasons why consumers will adopt smart appliances: either to gain an economic benefit or to contribute to reduce the environmental burden. As the results of the research show, consumers clearly expect an economic benefit in order to use smart appliances. They are not prepared to change their behavior without good incentives. Only a small percentage of environmentalists will be ready to buy smart appliances solely for environmental reasons.4“
The inference is clear: pure environmental motivation without financial relevance has limited effectiveness. Utilities must inform customers about how their actions are affecting their costs. For these reasons, combining billing information from customer information systems (CIS) with AMI data and deploying a real-time customer presentment interface is imperative to encouraging an understanding – and control – of water use.
FATHOM: COST + CONSUMPTION
FATHOM MDM, FATHOM CIS and FATHOM U2You achieve this goal of combining and presenting data in an easy to understand and relevant manner. Through these products, utilities and customers take an active role in reducing demand, while the found revenue aspects of the FATHOM data management system ensure the financial health of the utility. FATHOM offers these products in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) delivery model that reduces the overall costs of service, and makes these tools readily available for utilities of all sizes.
1Richey, A. S., Thomas, B. F., Lo, M.-H., Reager, J. T., Famiglietti, J. S., Voss, K., Swenson, S. and Rodell, M. (2015), Quantifying renewable groundwater stress with GRACE. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015WR017349
2Richey, A. S., Thomas, B. F., Lo, M.-H., Famiglietti, J. S., Swenson, S. and Rodell, M. (2015), Uncertainty in global groundwater storage estimates in a total groundwater stress framework. Water Resour. Res.. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1002/2015WR017351
3T. Hargreaves, M. Nye, J. Burgess, “Making energy visible: A qualitative field study of how householders interact with feedback from smart energy monitors”, Energy Policy 38 (2010) 6111–6119.
4W. Mert, Consumer acceptance of smart appliances, December 2008 (http://www.smart-a.org/WP5_5_Consumer_acceptance_18_12_08.pdf)