Lowering the transaction costs of sharing California's water data

Last Thursday and Friday UC Davis's Center for Water and Energy Efficiency hosted an extremely valuable and necessary workshop at East Bay Municipal Utilities District in Oakland discussing how to safely streamline how we share water data in California.

One big takeaway echoed over and over again by many participants was that the transaction costs of sharing data through current practices are unnecessarily and often prohibitively high.  The current ad hoc and fragmented data sharing process is made challenging both for utilities and prospective analysts through several key barriers:

  1. Legal -- data sharing agreements are often bespoke for each individual engagement, costing additional time and money.

  2. Technical -- water data generally isn't standardized and comes in different formats creating substantial extra legwork for analysts.

  3. Organizational -- data sharing relies heavily on connections that can be opaque to new entrants to the water world.

These barriers create transaction costs that prevent many utilities and prospective analysts from participating in the "marketplace" of water efficiency analysis.  Larger water utilities have the resources to participate in this marketplace yet the vast majority of California's 411 major retailers and thousand plus small water systems simply do not have the requisite resources.  

Since launching in January, the California Data Collaborative has grown to 9 utilities yet we're still very much dealing with the early adopters of water data sharing.  The big question moving forward is: "How can we streamline water data sharing so all of California's water utilities can easily participate in the marketplace of water efficiency analytics?"

How can we provide these analytics as public service to all of California's water utilities and beyond?

How can we provide these analytics as public service to all of California's water utilities and beyond?

Part of that will be achieved through the economies of scale that the California Data Collaborative offers through our shared service model to lower the per utility cost of hiring civic data science talent.

There's also additional institutional issues and our academic partner UC Davis CWEE did an excellent job of surfacing and taking leadership on those issues through the workshop last week and by developing a "trust framework."  Towards that goal of streamlining water data sharing, we've learned a great deal from our initial work with Data Collaborative utilities on how to standardize data sharing and data transfer procedures.  

Please see here for our standard NDA and here for our standard data ingestion worksheet that we use to onboard new utilities and standardize their customer use data into our statewide schema.  The Nondisclosure agreement currently does not enable data resharing which is a key aspect of streamlining this "marketplace" yet does provide a template from a leading water law firm.

Our hope is that by making those documents open it will help others looking to share California's water data and deliver the analyses water managers need to navigate the big water challenges we face as Californians.