A coalition of visionary water managers launched the California Data Collaborative in January 2016 during the height of the historic drought with a mission to “ensure water reliability no matter what the future holds.” The importance of this approach was affirmed in the recent Southern California Water Coalition whitepaper titled “California Water Efficiency: Leading the Way into the Future.”
The goal has always been to use data as a tool to support water managers in ensuring water reliability into an uncertain future. As described in a 2015 AWWA Journal article (Atwater AWWA 2015), the better use of data can help achieve longstanding integrated water management goals by providing rapid feedback on the effectiveness of management actions and by providing a common baseline of understanding for people at all levels of an organization and even across organizations where appropriate.
A number of key trends make the goal of modernizing water management urgent. The complexity of new regulatory requirements and the new normal of water scarcity present unique uncertainties for the industry. The Association of California Water Agencies estimated that local water utilities lost approximately $700 million due to declining water sales with the drought.
The CaDC believes an integrated approach is critical to effectively managing those issues and that new data tools need deep collaboration with leaders in the industry. To support water managers in addressing these cross-cutting issues, the CaDC integrates key data to power analytics and research partnerships at the intersection of planning, conservation and finance.
There are several areas of water management where improved data has had an especially high impact for improving the effectiveness of water management at leading CaDC local water utilities. Early success at leading CaDC water agencies has focused on using data to make water efficiency an integral part of water resource management.
For example, CaDC analytics have been used to design a partnership with a local school district to focus on inefficient landscapes, to locate demonstration gardens to accelerate outdoor market transformation, to better forecast urban demand and save $20 million in avoided capital costs, and to inform the evaluation of the historic approximately half billion dollar regional investment in turf rebates.
Big picture, these highlight the importance of data and analytics for water management. Urban water efficiency has historically been a “feel good” measure. Yet modern analytics and research can be integrated into finance, planning and water resource decisions to make water efficiency a much more rigorous part of a water resources portfolio. We will elaborate on some of these in future blog posts, but at a high level these include:
Planning and Demand Forecasting - A better understanding of demographic trends, land use changes, climate change and shifting regulatory environments can help water managers plan for the future. A common operational picture of statewide water supply and demand makes it easier to understand what affects each individual agency and also facilitates collaboration at the regional level where where each actor can operate from the same available data.
Market Penetration and Program Adoption - Understanding when, where, and how customers participate in water efficiency programs, as well as when they do not, is critical to being able to pivot from what doesn’t work and double down on what does. More integrated data can also provide more meaningful comparisons that enable water managers to understand why program adoption may be higher or lower in their service area compared to their peers.
Water Savings Estimates - Statistics measuring actual, empirically observed water savings are at the center of any sort of cost effectiveness calculation for water efficiency programs. Having estimates that are tailored to your programs and your agency, or even to neighborhoods within your agency can help water efficiency staff to craft smarter, more customized programs.
Revenue Stability - Decreases in water sales from conservation programs can lead to corresponding decreases in net revenue if costs are not properly recovered. Having the ability to interactively explore and forecast the impact of new rates can help inform the direction of a rate study, decrease uncertainty for water managers throughout your organization and answer questions about alternative rate structures from your board.
Customer Segmentation and Outreach - Water efficiency programs can be designed for specific customer segments. The ability to see meaningful benchmarks of neighborhood water use efficiency along with income, education and other demographics enables water managers to design, for example, education and outreach programs with the unique needs of that group in mind.
The CaDC coalition of water managers has made a visionary investment in the Strategic California UrBan water Analytics (“SCUBA”) data warehouse as the foundation for implementing this vision. That platform powers interactive open source analytics, streamlines secure data sharing for academic research and has the ability to make state reporting easier. Subsequent posts will share how specific visualization and statistical tools support water managers as part of this vision.
The wide world of water data
The CaDC’s work on urban water reliability represents a part of the much larger universe of water management and incredible water data work ongoing across the industry. For the past three years, the CaDC has hosted an annual water data summit bringing together leading water managers, technologists, academics, NGOs and other industry professionals committed to improving water management with modern data tools. It has been humbling to see the breadth of interest and inspiring to see the commitment to modernizing water management.
Looking at that larger universe of water data, the Aspen institute developed a whitepaper on “the internet of water” which was published in 2017. That paper lays out a vision for connected local and regional hubs managing important data resources in different areas of water management.
One part of this vision is interoperability and easy access to public data, which the CaDC supports through the development of open data standards such as the Open Water Rate Specification. A second important aspect is a user-centered approach to creating value from data which the CaDC embodies through its steering committee and data action teams.
Several participants in the CaDC were part of the discussions that developed that report and the internet of water represents an inspiring goal for the entire industry. The CaDC looks forward to continuing to implement its vision to “ensure water reliability no matter what the future holds.”