A New Commitment to Water Efficiency

Applying Accurate, Reliable Data to Prioritize, Operate and Manage Water Systems Resourcefully

By Jack Merrell, Itron

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While resources, in the form of freshwater, personnel and operating budgets, continue to be limited, demand for these resources continues to increase. Communities around the world are facing aging infrastructures, growing populations, government mandates and shrinking budgets. As a result, managing water resources is critical to ongoing economic prosperity and social well-being.

To meet these continually increasing challenges, utilities must become more efficient in the way they manage their resources, address demands on their infrastructure and engage with customers. However, simply spending money to make money is not necessarily the answer. It is not truly efficient and, for most water utilities, not an easy option. At the same time, simply selling more water is not going to solve the problem if supplies are already limited and inefficiencies still exist. This only increases losses, waste and cost for a nominal return.

By more efficiently identifying contributors to non-revenue water, such as system leaks, aging assets and unauthorized usage, utilities can reduce operational expenses and uncover new revenue streams.

By more efficiently identifying contributors to non-revenue water, such as system leaks, aging assets and unauthorized usage, utilities can reduce operational expenses and uncover new revenue streams.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), water efficiency is “the use of improved technologies and practices to deliver equal or better service with less water.” The key is to have access to products and solutions that make that possible and that equip utilities to increase operational efficiencies and uncover new revenue streams.
The answer is not decreasing or limiting access to freshwater, but rather increasing the efficiency with which water is provided and consumed. Decreasing the excess, not the access. In other words, to be resourceful.

But the question is “how?” How do we use technology to turn these challenges into opportunities that result in positive outcomes? The answer is with data. But not just data, and not just big data. With the collection of accurate, reliable data and the tools to analyze the information, utilities can prioritize actions and capitalize on their efforts. This allows them to understand the demands of their service territories and ensure sufficient supply is available. By more efficiently identifying contributors to non-revenue water, such as system leaks, aging assets and unauthorized usage, utilities can reduce operational expenses and uncover new revenue streams. They can also provide their customers with access to that same set of information, making it possible for them to understand and manage their consumption.

At the heart of this is a technology platform that collects and manages detailed data and information from a utility’s distribution system. Coupled with powerful analytics, data collected through the system can be transformed into valuable and actionable intelligence for users across the utility. This delivers benefits to the entire organization, including billing, customer service, operations, engineering and distribution, and empowers them all to address conservation and revenue protection opportunities. Advanced technology delivers the information necessary to make decisions, enabling a utility to affect change and ultimately create a more resourceful world. It empowers utilities and communities to actuate change that will have an immediate and, more importantly, lasting impact on the availability, management and use of water.

Following the implementation of an AMI solution, the City of Cleveland, Ohio, has also been able to proactively identify potential customer-side leaks and, in turn, notify its customers. This has benefitted both the utility and the end customer.

Following the implementation of an AMI solution, the City of Cleveland, Ohio, has also been able to proactively identify potential customer-side leaks and, in turn, notify its customers. This has benefitted both the utility and the end customer.

These solutions allow utilities to analyze usage at the customer, district and total system levels. With the ability to easily create user-defined groups, to which time-synchronized consumption data can be applied, utilities can implement programs to influence more responsible water consumption.

Furthermore, by comparing interval consumption data with metered data from district meters, utilities can identify potential system losses through district metering. System losses could be a result of leaks, aging meters, incorrectly sized meters or unauthorized consumption. Having the ability to identify these potential losses prior to rolling a truck results in an immediate, positive impact to the bottom line.

Additionally, utilities that are challenged with drought conditions can monitor customer consumption to report on and enforce compliance during periods of water restrictions. Knowing when customers are using water, again without having to roll a truck, further decreases operational costs. This is yet another way to be more resourceful.
In addition to identifying system losses via the collection of time-synchronized data, utilities can install acoustical leak sensors to continuously audit the integrity of their distribution systems. Knowing when leaks occur, before they damage public or private property, further decreases operational expenses and increases revenue opportunities. With proactive leak detection, a utility is able to reduce the amount of water lost, decrease the cost of repair and, as a result, lower their non-revenue water.

It is through these increases in efficiencies and implementation of new technologies and business processes that current system losses can be transformed into positive and potentially new revenue streams. Whether revenues are increased or operating cost is reduced, either can have a positive impact on the bottom line. Both make it possible to deliver equal or better products and service with less. Both make it possible to be more water efficient.

A number of utilities and organizations are already demonstrating their commitment to water efficiency through the use of advanced technologies, implementing solutions that facilitate program objectives. For example, Envision Charlotte has programs in place to encourage the reduction of energy and water consumption in Charlotte, N.C.’s downtown area, known as Uptown. By bringing awareness to consumption levels through the deployment of advanced technologies capable of collecting hourly interval data, Envision Charlotte is encouraging change in the way energy and water are used. As a result, businesses can lower the expense of “keeping the lights on.” A key benefit of this program is the increasing number of businesses, and thus people, coming to the Charlotte area. This is just one “end” justified by the “means” that demonstrates the power and flexibility of technology capable of satisfying utility challenges around the world.

Thanks to the collection of interval data, the City of Madison, Wis., has been able to establish thresholds for identifying possible customer-side leaks, and then proactively notifying the customer. As a result of the success of their efforts, over the past three years, the threshold has continually been lowered or rather fine-tuned. To date, more than 2,000 customers have received letters notifying them of possible leaks at their homes. In addition, nearly 3,000 customers have signed up to receive water usage threshold notifications through the utility’s online water conservation tool.

Another example of actuating change within a utility’s operations and customer base is the City of Cleveland, Ohio. Following the implementation of an Advanced Metering Infrastructure solution, the city has also been able to proactively identify potential customer-side leaks and, in turn, proactively notify its customers. The resulting benefits have been recognized by both the utility as well as the end customer. Following notification from the utility, Cleveland Water’s customers have the opportunity to minimize the impact to their water bill, and Cleveland Water has seen a significant decrease in the number of bill-related calls to its call center.

The use of improved technologies and practices to deliver equal or better service with less water is the heart of water efficiency. Utilities and consumers, collectively, need to be respectful of what water means to our existence and more importantly, we all need to be held responsible for ensuring the resource is available for generations to come.


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Jack Merrell is the water efficiency manager at Itron. Merrell has more than 20 years of experience in the utility industry, with the last 15 years focused on helping water utilities leverage technology to improve operational efficiency.  He is currently focused on helping utilities develop comprehensive approaches to water efficiency.

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