BABY, IT’S HOT OUTSIDE…
California’s drought condition remains dire, with almost 47 percent1 of the state’s landmass characterized as being in Exceptional Drought. The conditions are impacting both humans and the health of fish in the state’s rivers. The California State Water Resources Control Board is currently considering a United States Bureau of Reclamation temperature management plan to release in the order of 7,250 cubic feet per second2 from the Shasta Reservoir to the Sacramento River to ensure sufficient cold water to protect Chinook salmon. The Board has also enacted additional conservation requirements for approximately 13,000 properties that use surface or groundwater connected to four tributaries of the Russian River system to ensure vital environmental flows are maintained.3
The state’s major reservoirs are showing the strain of maintaining water demand for the environment and humans. While California enacted conservation regulations in May 2015, the fact remains that only 18.7 percent of the state’s water providers have met these requirements.4 Moving into the heat of the summer, California’s reservoirs are at 45 percent of capacity – and only 59 percent of the long-term average – for this time of the year. In fact, reservoir levels are flirting with numbers unseen since California’s 1977 drought – the driest period on record in California. With the climatological dry season in full swing, the current drought is likely to persist and/or intensify throughout most, if not all of, the July/August/September 2015 season.5
And the situation for groundwater is not any better. Using sophisticated computer models that combine measurements of water storage from NASA’s GRACE satellite with a long-term meteorological data, researchers estimate that the majority of California’s shallow groundwater is in the second percentile6 – meaning that since 1948, soil in California has been wetter than it currently is more than 98 percent of the time.
BUT IT’S WORSE THAN THAT
The problem today has been made worse by the combination of the extended nature of the current drought and the fact that the state’s population has increased by over 50 percent since 1977. On a per capita basis, California has less stored water available today than it had during the 1977 drought. In 1977, California had an average available storage of 0.471 acre-feet per person. In 2014, that number was 0.396 acre-feet per person.7 While groundwater is often viewed as a hedge against drought, the Stockholm Environment Institute estimated in 2011 that Californian groundwater use was resulting in an overdraft of 150 million acrefeet per year – approximately 49 trillion gallons per year8 . The result is that a large portion of California’s aquifers have suffered declines in excess of 40 feet.9
Our engineered, supply-side water systems, while well situated for a narrow range of environmental conditions, are straining under the volatility that exists in the water delivery cycle today.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
On the scale of water issues, the crisis in California is progressing at light speed. Water managers and utilities accustomed to having years to plan and deploy solutions are faced with the reality that measures need to be implemented today. We are simply not going to be able to build new supply, new reservoirs or new pipelines fast enough to adapt to this problem. And in fact more supply is not the solution. We need a better understanding of how, where and when we are using water. The good news is that data-driven conservation schemes that combine more granular data from Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) with Customer Information Systems and Customer Presentment platforms can effect meaningful reductions in demand in short time frames.
For the customer, access to detailed, time-relevant data, means dramatic changes in consumption. With access to this data, subtle societal pressures can be
reinforced and the utility can nudge the customers’ fundamental understanding of water – particularly when combined with financial context. In the face of increasing water prices, making consumers intimately aware of the impact their own actions have on their costs will be imperative.
The highly-configurable FATHOM demand-side management tools are a rapid, flexible and effective means of reducing pressure on water resources and preserving revenue. FATHOM can be deployed in 60 to 90 days resulting in decreased demands, while also improving utility revenue by combining geospatial data with billing, taxation and building records.
In a time where wild variations in natural delivery systems and financial conditions are a constant threat to utility operations, such tools are powerful assets in our arsenal. Rather than spending decades permitting and constructing new water supplies or water transfer schemes, FATHOM can be deployed quickly, reliably and result in an almost instantaneous demand reduction – with the corollary benefit of incremental revenue.
4FATHOM Drought Watch, 12 June 2015, Volume 1, Issue 10 http://www.gwfathom.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/FATHOMDrought-Watch-v1.10.pdf
7Data from http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/prevreservoirs/STORAGEW and http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=kf7tgg1uo9ude_&met_y=population&idim=state:06000:48000&hl=en&dl=en
8F. Ackerman, E.A. Stanton, “The Last Drop: Climate Change and the Southwest Water Crisis,” Stockholm Environment Institute—US Center, 2011:5, http://www.sei-us.org/publications/id/371
9T. E. Reilly, K. F. Dennehy, W. M. Alley, and W. L. Cunningham, “Ground-Water Availability in the United States,” US Geological Survey Circular 1323 (2008): 70; also available online at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1323/