Attacking Apathy and Reducing Demand
How low-flow fixtures and intelligent data systems can inspire lackadaisical customers and help utilities fine-tune water resource management.
Most of us could do better. Some water professionals with whom I have spoken tell me that the public does not know and does not care much about water problems.
“As long as somebody else is addressing the problem and the cost isn’t too high at the moment, most of our residents don’t seem to care,” was how one professional put it. The comment, I suspect, was as much an example of frustration at inactivity as anger at the general public. Let me start, then, by pointing to two places where the public is being helped to know and to care.
The Metropolitan State College (Metro State), of Denver, CO, has more than 23,000 students, and most of them stay in Colorado after graduation. Recently, an anonymous donation of $1 million was used to help establish an interdisciplinary education program, the One World, One Water Center for Urban Water Education and Stewardship (OWOW Center).
“In Denver’s urban environment, water stewardship and sustainability are especially important and relevant topics,” comments College President Stephen Jordan.
In addition to the water studies minor, the OWOW Center will have two other major functions that will help develop urban water stewards and enhance the students’ understanding of water as a critical resource that must be sustained and conserved: enriching co-curricular activities and water stewardship activities on and beyond campus that promote effective use of water resources.
“When we researched the potential for this program, we found that there wasn’t much being done at the undergraduate level to incorporate a variety of disciplines in water education,” observes Sandra Haynes, dean of Metro State’s School of Professional Studies. “Through the interdisciplinary model, our graduates have the potential to make lasting impacts on water issues in our communities across the state and in their chosen professions.”
As a backdrop to this praiseworthy step forward in education, it may be appropriate to mention that in a 2004 study the Colorado Water Conservation Board predicted that the region’s annual water demand will exceed available supplies by 120,000 to 360,000 acre-feet by 2030. Interestingly in this arena of the struggle for water, the headwaters of five major rivers count Colorado as their home: the Colorado, Arkansas, Rio Grande, South Platte, and White/Yampa.
It was the awful drought begun in the late ’80s that gave increased momentum to the Long-Term Water Supply Plan for the City of Santa Barbara, CA. The city joined the California Urban Water Conservation Council’s (CUWCC) Best Management Practices in January 1992. There are many interesting features to the city’s program. Santa Barbara implements an annual water main replacement program. Age, material, and break history of water mains are tracked to determine overall condition of main, in order to determine the priority of mains to be replaced. The City also replaces 3 miles per year of the 275 miles of main in the water distribution system.
“The City of Santa Barbara Water Resources specialist conducts residential water surveys [water checkups] upon request by water customers,” advises Alison Jordan, Water Conservation Coordinator for Santa Barbara. “A water checkup includes evaluating all water uses on the property and providing recommendations to the customer for improved efficiency, including both indoor usage and an irrigation system. As an element of the water checkup, the staff performs SIR-specific landscape water surveys that include checking the irrigation system for maintenance and repairs, reviewing the irrigation schedule and making recommendations for adjusting the program of the irrigation controller, and providing the customer with evaluation results and water savings recommendations.”
The City has conducted an average of 400 water checkups per year (including both residential and commercial checkups) for a total of 9,290 surveys since June 1990. The savings for this program is projected to be 400 acre-feet per year for the 20-year period as projected in the Long-Term Water Supply Plan. The City also provides rebates for water users, called the Smart Rebates Program and co-funded through the Proposition 50 grant received by the CUWCC and participating water suppliers in California. For residential customers, a water broom has a rebate of $50, a high-efficiency clothes washer has a $150 rebate, and a high-efficiency toilet has rebate of $100. The City’s Toilet Rebate Program was in place from August 1988 through June 1995. The total number of rebates issued was 18,842.
A shortage of water in any community can have several causes. Among those frequently met, but seldom publicized, are leaks in the supply lines and the inability to use free rainwater. Leaks in lines to residences have been estimated over 30% nationwide, but their story could be too simple for startling news reports. If the water from the supplier, private or public, does not reach the end user as it should, there is definitely a water shortage. Of more concern should be that the lost water has been treated expensively and rendered excellent for its intended purpose. If most of the rain that falls, free and helpful, just runs away somewhere that is surely a worrisome aspect of water shortage. Are there answers to these everyday problems? If there are, are they all too expensive to try?
|Photo: @ISTOCKPHOTO/ KODACHROME25
Older houses with older water systems may qualify for rebates or other purchasing help for more efficient equipment.
|Photo: @ISTOCKPHOTO/ EASYBUY4U
Smartening the Water Management in a Community
The City of Dubuque, IA, teamed with IBM in research for its Smarter Sustainable Dubuque program and helped reduce the use of water by 6.6%. Perhaps of greater impact, the program increased leak detection and response eightfold. This Smarter Sustainable Dubuque Water Pilot Study empowered 151 Dubuque households with information, analysis, insights, and social computing around their water consumption for nine weeks.
By providing citizens and city officials with an integrated view of water consumption, the Water Pilot resulted in water conservation, increased the leak reporting rate, and encouraged behavior changes. The smarter meter system monitored water consumption every 15 minutes and collected and communicated data to the IBM Research Cloud. Data was collected from information including weather, demographics, and household characteristics. Using cloud computing, the data was analyzed to trigger notification of potential leaks and anomalies, and helped volunteers understand their consumption in greater detail. Volunteers were only able to view their own consumption habits, while city management could see the aggregate data. All homes participating in the Water Pilot program were volunteers. The data collected was anonymous and contained no confidential information.
The participating households received alerts about anomalies and leaks and acquired a better understanding of the consumption patterns. They could compare their patterns with those of others in the community. Among the 151 participating households over the nine weeks, 89,090 gallons were saved. That would make an annual savings per household of 3,409 gallons (or more than half a billion gallons annually for the whole group).
“Water conservation is a shared responsibility,” confirms Michael Sullivan, Worldwide Program Director, Smarter Water Management Solutions, IBM. “Municipalities and water utilities can do their part by keeping the water system in good working order, and by making usage information available to citizens. And citizens, armed with that information, can in turn make more informed decisions about when and how they use water, and how much of it they use. Water conservation will be most successful when it’s a truly collaborative effort.”
IBM has also been involved with the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (DC WASA) to modernize the management of the water and sewer infrastructure below our nation’s capital. That infrastructure includes hundreds of thousands of assets, like water distribution pipes, valves, public fire hydrants, collection pipes, manholes, and water meters. IBM’s Global Business Services and Research arms have begun collaboration with DC WASA to integrate advanced analytics with asset management software from IBM and a mapping application from ESRI, an IBM Business Partner. The availability of real-time, map-based information and geoanalytics will help engineers from the authority identify problems before they occur.
“The work of water relies heavily on our ability to monitor our infrastructure,” notes George S. Hawkins, General Manager of DC WASA. “We can now manage almost every component from central, computer-based programs.”
Mujib Lodhi, chief information officer of DC WASA, explains another aspect of this cooperation.
“Our work with IBM has allowed our assets to communicate with us, and we’re doing more than listening—we’re taking action,” says Lodhi. “We are able to deploy our crews faster, which is key when there’s water on the road, or customers are without service.” DC WASA is a regional utility that provides drinking water, wastewater collection, and treatment to more than 500,000 residential, commercial, and government customers.
Direct Help for the Residential Customer
A common criticism of the residential customer is that he or she does not know enough about water to do anything progressive and that “educational programs” have not worked. What if that customer were given direct help? A fine example of how to help residential customers directly is given by San Antonio Water System (SAWS).
Few parts of our country have suffered worse droughts than that part of Texas this year. Apart from landscaping advice and rebates, SAWS gives help to those residents who do not have “landscapes” to worry about—which may be most residential customers. Even if you don’t try to maintain a beautiful landscape at your residence, you almost certainly have a toilet. SAWS has a program called “Kick the Can”. With this program the utility gives a customer two new water efficient toilets. Yes, gives. Those eligible are customers who have water-wasting toilets in their residence built prior to 1992. Also eligible are residential customers with one or more rental properties built prior to 1991, and for that renters must complete a Landlord Consent Form.
The other item your residence probably has is a hot water producer. Many systems (from talking to neighbors, that should read most systems) make you waste water while you wait for the water to warm up. SAWS will give a $150 rebate on a SAWS-approved hot-water-on-demand system. You’ll get your hot water 80% faster without wasting any. You could save up to 10,000 gallons per year (plus the money you would have spent on it). The circulating pumps are easy to install and virtually worry-free. SAWS will tell its customers which heaters are approved and where to get them. There, then, are two most practical, helping practices from a water utility that will save the customer money and save the whole community water.
|Photo: EFFICIENCY PRODUCTION
Better resource management can help utilities avoid costly repairs.
Low-flow fixtures are essential to demand reduction.
The Town of Culpeper, VA, has chosen Aclara to provide a total Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) solution for electric and water meters. (Aclara is part of the Utility Solutions group of ESCO Technologies, Inc.) For the 6,400 water customers the town will use Aclara’s STAR network system for water meters. Primarily, the town will be able to serve its customers better through a Web portal that provides access directly to usage data. One aspect of the system is that Culpeper will implement acoustic leak detection to find water losses in the distribution system. That is a huge step towards better efficiency for residents, and the technique is something that the average resident (of Culpeper or any other city) is unlikely to have or be able to acquire. The other significant fact of this great step forward by Culpeper is that it has recognized that energy and water work together everywhere in a community.
Itron offers the Leak Sensor as another water management tool that, when integrated with the company’s 100-W ERT, listens proactively for system leaks. Water utilities that use Itron 100 ERT communication modules can acquire hourly interval meter read collection (data logging), whether in a fixed network, mobile network, or walk-by data collection system.
“Such flexibility can help water utilities transform their business operations,” notes Brian Fiut, Senior Product Manager with Itron Water sales group.
By providing tools to engage customers about their usage (as well as delivering tools to help utilities better manage precious resources), two-way communication to a meter also enables off-cycle reads to be easily captured without having to roll a truck. Utilities can access real-time and historical hourly customer usage information that can expedite bill reconciliation and enhance customer service.
“By using in-home displays,” continues Fiut, “utility customers will benefit by gaining timely access to their water usage information, helping them make informed decisions about their consumption. This direct connection to water usage and its cost will help conservation efforts and increase customer satisfaction.”
A Voice for Both Sides of the Challenge
Linda Warner, Consumer Engagement Product Manager at Itron, represents both providers and customers and has seen the problems and solutions firsthand.
“Giving consumers access to their consumption information in near real time is powerful,” says Warner. “In my role with Itron, I have the opportunity to test various products in my home. I now have access to data coming from my water meter, and I was stunned at how much water I put on the lawn. It was easy to look at the report graphics and pick out the days when I did laundry. It was rather surprising to me that I learned things by something as simple as looking at the patterns. I learned them pretty fast.
“My irrigation system has a much different pattern from my laundry pattern,” she adds. “My showers use so little they don’t show up unless I’m doing something in addition, like running the dishwasher. I am addicted to seeing my meter data as a consumer now. It’s like my cell phone—I don’t know how I lived without it. I don’t study it any more, but I look at it regularly to make sure I’m on track and not over-consuming.”
Water utilities are looking at which tools and enabling technologies are available to help them educate their customers about their usage and better understand their consumption patterns. Even if conservation is not an immediate concern, for most utilities it is a concern sitting out there on the horizon, especially in water-stressed locales.
“Asking customers to conserve before they understand their particular household [or business] usage is not the fastest path to success,” observes Warner. “Attempting to adjust consumption behaviors is easier once you actually understand that behavior and your role in it. There are compelling technologies that can capture consumption information directly from the meter and, via the Internet, display it on smart phones, iPads, and PCs, all in near real time. The consumers can use a device they already own to view data or have the option of an in-home display.
|Xeriscaping and intelligent irrigation can work together to enable water efficient landscaping.
She continues: “The technology and tools are available, but few consumers have a way of knowing about them unless their utility makes them aware through conservation programs. What seems to be lagging is communications from the utility to their customer base that such tools are available, and what benefits they both can get from them. For example, why is real-time consumption important in the first place?”
The vendors addressing these aspects of the issue can not only serve up meter data on a smart phone, iPad, PC, or in-home display, many can also provide value-added services to the homeowner, such as remote control of thermostats, lighting controls, remote control of door locks, and other home automation features that make life easier, safer, and more convenient. All these tools can be purchased by the homeowner, by the utility, or some by each.
Companies are partnering with utilities to offer consumers flexible choices for viewing data. For instance, some utilities will purchase one key element to make the meter data available to the consumer, and the consumer may then build on that by purchasing other add-on products a la carte.
How does a water utility or provider benefit from this? There are studies and utility surveys that show customers have more favorable feelings towards their utility providers when they give them access to near-real-time data. The most common comment is that the utility taught them something and made them feel smarter. The utility gave them something other than a bill.
“Successful implementation of a water stewardship program begins with knowledge and, with that knowledge, the power to act,” asserts Warner. “Technology is now here to enable this empowering process with tools that customers are used to interacting with. Reshaping the relationship with utility customers is one of the most exciting opportunities in the utility industry today. Taking a broader approach and giving consumers access to water meter consumption data can seem overwhelming, but, when the right products are in place, it sets the stage for effective, well-understood conservation programs.”
The utility/consumer relationship can move forward in a way that was just not possible before. It takes us, surely, to a sustainable future.
American Water, the nation’s largest publicly traded water and wastewater company serving 15 million people in more than 30 states and parts of Canada, recognizes the importance of educating consumers about the value of water.
“We work with customers on an ongoing basis to educate them on how to use water wisely both inside and outside their homes and businesses,” advises Maureen Duffy, vice president of Corporate Communications and External Affairs at American Water. “These efforts include distributing to customers conservation information, leak detection kits, and other conservation tools and ideas through bill inserts and on websites and our social media channels, as well as providing conservation education programs online and at community events and schools.
“In American Water’s western states, where water conservation is a part of everyone’s daily life, the company helps customers reduce their water use—and save money on their water bill—by providing them with additional vital programs and resources,” she says. “These include free residential and non-residential water conservation audits, in which we assess water usage, check for leaks, and install water-saving fixtures at no cost to our customers. The company also provides rebates on WaterSense and other water
As a longstanding partner in the EPA’s WaterSense program, American Water promotes WaterSense initiatives among its customers, including the annual Fix a Leak Week, as well as the use of WaterSense-certified appliances and fixtures. American Water also served as a lead partner in the agency’s national “We’re For Water” campaign in the summer of 2010, which promoted wise water use during this peak usage time.
|Photo: JOHN FRANCIS
Green lawns can coexist with water conservation thanks to smart irrigation technologies.
Meter maintenance is at the heart of more complicated systems.
|Photo: MICHAEL PETERS
Gardens, yards, and landscapes require intelligent irrigation.
“For American Water’s 125th anniversary this year, we launched a year-long consumer education campaign aimed at promoting the importance of protecting water from source to tap,” adds Duffy. “The cornerstone of the campaign included a series of television Public Service Announcements, created in partnership with the Student Conservation Association and EPA’s WaterSense program, that provide household conservation and wise water use tips. American Water also has two customer service centers that operate 24 hours a day/7 days a week, so we are able to connect with, and respond to, our customers if they call with questions or need assistance.”
In addition to trying to engage customers through communications efforts, American Water continually provides opportunities throughout the service areas to visit some of the facilities where they treat their water, so they develop an understanding of the process and a heightened appreciation of the true value of water. (In general, when something is valued, it is less likely to be wasted.)
“Across our footprint, we are focused on educating communities about the value of water,” says Duffy. “People everywhere turn on the tap and expect water to flow out, but many times they don’t think about the extensive process that is involved in making that happen. As a water services provider, we draw water from the sources—either from deep in the ground, or from surface waters like lakes, rivers, and streams—treat it to EPA standards in a state-of-the-art treatment facility, test it to ensure that it meets those quality standards, and then pump it into the distribution system of pipes so it gets delivered to your home.
“When you understand the process, and consider the amount of money we invest into our pipes, pumps, and plants—$800 million to $1 billion annually—to make this happen, and compare it to the price most of our customers pay—about a penny per gallon—you recognize the tremendous value that is being provided,” she adds.
“As water and wastewater service providers, we are all challenged by the serious need for infrastructure repair nationwide to ensure reliable service to our customers, the need to comply with increasing quality requirements, and challenges with the quantity and quality of source water,” continues Duffy. “It is essential that water providers share information with customers about these challenges and the solutions that we are providing to them, so that, when they get their bill, they understand what it is they are paying for.”
We are really at a crossroads as a nation right now. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the nation’s water systems are near failure. It is imperative that the country shift its thinking about water. The critical state of the nation’s infrastructure can no longer be ignored. A recent ITT Corporation survey shows that people value their water service above all other household services, yet it is still the lowest utility bill in most households.
As a nation, we take water for granted. We need to recognize the value of water service and understand that there is a cost to maintain the pipes, plants, and pumps that treat and deliver water. And we, as an industry, need to educate our customers about this issue.
Control is the key to success for water demand management at all kinds and sizes of places. Littleton Public Schools, in Colorado, must water an area of turf that has nearly tripled in the last 15 years. The school district has two irrigation specialists to manage 24 public school complexes with about 16,000 students. There are drought concerns, too. To solve the obvious potential problems, Littleton Public Schools now use (from Rain Bird) a Maxicom² Central Control with a FREEDOM Remote Control System.
“Thanks to Maxicom², the irrigation of 26 sites can be handled by only two technicians,” explains Brad Leitner, Structural/Grounds Manager. “We have seen an almost 30% cost savings over five years on water alone. That doesn’t take into account the fact that we almost tripled the amount of land being irrigated.” Those water cost savings for the school district have been $690,700, thanks to an efficient Rain Bird control system.
In Washington D.C., the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has the responsibility for maintaining 115 natural turf athletic fields, at 75 different sites. The necessary adjustments to watering used to be made by an outside contractor traveling around. The solution could be a central control system, but none of the sites had network or landline access, so it was impossible for the satellite controllers to communicate with a central computer.
“We can now make automatic scheduling adjustments at these sites without having to physically travel to them,” says Derek Schultz, Operations Program Manager for DPR. “That’s especially helpful when special events are scheduled at the fields.”
For LEGOLAND in California, there several diverse landscapes in the 128 acres, and reclaimed water is used for 90% of the irrigation (and that can wear rapidly on water valves if you don’t have the best ones). The entire theme park uses Rain Bird irrigation products. Lupe Rivera, in charge of the irrigation at LEGOLAND, says that having a central control system saves so much time and effort, and they don’t need to hire a lot of people to accomplish the work.
Rivera also says that the Rain Bird reclaimed valves (specially designed for this purpose) have made a significant difference to the valves’ life and reliability. “The Rain Bird Maxicom system, in use since the park opened, allows us to maximize the hydraulic capacity of our system, which makes us more efficient with our water. We can also see the benefits of the cycle-and-soak feature, especially in our sloped areas.”
Author's Bio: Paul Hull is a frequent contributor to Forester Media publications.