Texas’ population is expected to increase more than 70% between 2020 and 2070, from 29.5 million to 51 million. At the same time, water demand is projected to increase by 17%, from 18.4 million acre-feet per year (maf) to 21.6 maf in 2070. One city aiming to help the state decouple population growth from water demand is Austin.
Austin Water has implemented a variety of conservation programs to ensure clean water is available for future generations, in addition to lowering electricity required for water and wastewater services. In turn, this decreases the need and expense for water infrastructure. Two of its main conservation programs are its smart water meter trials and its digital water consumption reports for customers.
Austin Water’s smart water meter trials
Austin Water has begun trialing the installation of 160 smart meters in parts of the River Place and Grenlake neighborhoods. The trial, which began in 2016 and is ongoing, is important as it will enable the utility to determine the benefits and feasibility of replacing over 200,000 regular meters. The participants fall into two groups, with participants in River Place chosen at random while Grenlake participants were identified as properties of concern. The overall goal of the program is to bring greater accuracy and reliability to the meter reading process and eventually provide more timely water usage data to Austin Water customers.
As part of the trial, participating customers receive online access to their daily water usage, including leak notifications and statistics. Specifically, all participating customers can access a Water Scope customer portal enabling them to:
- View their water consumption in 5-minute intervals with the graph able to be set for daily, monthly, or custom periods. Customers can download the data once per day in the early morning, reporting the previous day’s usage from midnight to midnight
- See where they are using water (domestic use, irrigation use, and possible leaks)
- Compare their usage against the water budget to show progress towards the monthly goal
- Click on links to additional information
- Set up email notifications on potential leaks, high usage, and unexpected usage
Consumption data has been broken down into three categories (domestic, irrigation, and leakage). Irrigation has been defined as sustained use of over 8 gallons per minute, while leaks are the total continuous flows and repeated intermittent flows that the software has been programmed to identify. Domestic usage is all other water usage.
Each household has been set a water budget which is the average monthly water demand for the 160 homes in the smart meter pilot study group. This budget has been set as the benchmark for customers to be able to gauge their water consumption. The budget is made up of domestic (indoor) and irrigation (outdoor) use. The domestic portion is based on the month with the lowest average daily usage of indoor water. The irrigation part is based on average monthly irrigation demands for an average-sized yard.
Counting each drop
Austin Water has developed the Dropcounter home water use report program that provides free, digital water reports to homeowners. The reports are available by mobile app and/or Internet and include:
- A customized household water use profile
- Information about a customer’s past water use compared to:
- Similar households
- Utility bill rate tiers
- Water efficiency standards
- The customer’s water saving goals
- Tips on ways to save water and links to Austin Water conservation programs
- Utility alerts and announcements about new conservation programs
When setting a water savings goal, Dropcounter compares the household with ‘similar’ households. A similar household is one that is like the customer’s home in terms of property size and number of residents. The data comes from census and county data along with participant-provided information to identify similar households. Users can compare their water use to similar households in a 5-mile radius.
Online access to data empowers water users to make informed consumption choices.
*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley), The Green Economy and the Water-Energy-Food Nexus (Palgrave Macmillan), and of the forthcoming title Blue and Green Cities (Palgrave Macmillan). He is Founder of Mitidaption, which consults on climate change risks to business, governance, and society.