WATER SCARCITY: LOCATION MATTERS
The latest Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data, combined with long-term meteorological data such as precipitation, temperature, and solar radiation paints a dry picture for California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona1, with significant portions of these areas being in the 2nd percentile. This means that since 1948, only 2 percent of the groundwater measurements for these areas have been drier than they are today. On the other hand, other areas are seeing only sporadic indications of drought. These large spatial overviews can, however, mask the reality of how water availability is affecting individuals.
One such example is Texas. GRACE data suggests that Texas is wetter in some areas and drier in others, however the representation at this scale does not do justice to the reality on the ground. In fact, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) indicates that 1,169 of the state’s 4,631 public water systems – over 25% of them – are experiencing mandatory or voluntary water restrictions, affecting a population of over 16 million people.2 In 49 water systems, the projected water supply is less than 180 days. The majority of these systems in trouble, however, are small systems serving less than 50,000 people.
The condition in Texas is simply a reflection of the state of the water sector in the United States. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records show more than 52,000 community water systems serve over 300 million people exist within the United States, resulting in a highly fragmented industry. This in turn results in tremendous diseconomies of scale and a lack of adoption of technology.
WATER IS A LOCAL BUSINESS
The reason for this fragmentation is obvious: water is extremely heavy and costly to transport, precluding the physical interconnection that could lead to system consolidation and greater economies of scale. This physical nature of water precludes many of the benefits that electric, gas and other utilities have with dealing with resource supply and delivery efficiency and ultimately defines why the Smart Grid for Water differs so significantly from the Electric Smart Grid.
The discrepancy between large and small scale also highlights the reality that water remains intensely local and that our water systems often are isolated entities. Coupled with the fact that water is very massive and that utilities are extremely infrastructure intensive, the opportunities to achieve economies of scale and consolidation to properly manage resources are most likely to come from data than from drops.
That is, we are more likely to use information about how we use water, when we use it and where we use it to operate our fragmented systems in a more efficient manner. Rather than building more supply, we will get more from our existing systems and do more with less.
“Understanding the role of information and the household consumer is integral for transforming a ‘Water Supply City’ where the focus is on infrastructure alone to a ‘Water Sensitive City’ where infrastructure, users and the environment are integrated.”3
However, with 92 percent of community water systems serving less than 10,000 people4, the solutions that are developed must be scalable, deployable without integration, inexpensive and easy to operate to achieve maximum penetration in the market.
TRANSFORMING THE INDUSTRY
As with other industries, the transformative change in water utilities must begin with maximizing the use of data across the entire utility ecosystem. This convergence of data will not only allow for our utilities to operate more effectively, but will be a key driver in maintaining our infrastructure, meeting our current and future demands, and assuring the revenue stability of our utilities.
Consolidation in the water industry, then, will be achieved through data connections, not piping connections.
FATHOM addresses these needs by exploiting the significant reductions in the cost of data storage and analysis resources that are available as a result of cloud-based computational power, storage, and networking infrastructure and software-as-a-service (SaaS) deployment methodologies.
Using these mechanisms, highly functional, state-of-the-art technologies are available to utilities of all sizes. Systems for sophisticated water scarcity management are now available at very low costs and without the need for investments in hardware, data systems, IT integration and support and software management. Further, by utilizing industry best practices, and incentivizing conformity across data platforms and business practices, FATHOM offers rapid deployment and adoption.
FATHOM brings economies of scale to the fragmented water market by modernizing the data and business processes associated with billing, customer service, asset management and operations through integrating utility data into a geo-temporal data model. With advanced data analysis and presentment, customers and utility staff are afforded greater insight into consumption use and patterns, allowing sustained resource protection, and increased customer service levels. FATHOM de-fragments the industry, and allows for the democratization of data, enabling small, mid-size and large systems to adopt advanced technologies to manage resources volatility at a low, sustainable cost.
3Damien P. Giurco , Stuart B. White and Rodney A. Stewart, “Smart Metering and Water End-Use Data: Conservation Benefits and Privacy Risks” Water 2010, 2, 461-467
4USEPA, “National Characteristics of Drinking Water Systems Serving Populations Under 10,000”, July 2011