Water Efficiency Watch

News from the Alliance for Water Efficiency


Water Efficiency Watch is the online newsletter of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, edited by Peter Mayer.   

In this issue of Water Efficiency Watch...

California Enacts Groundbreaking Urban Water Management Legislation 

CaliforniaThe world of urban water management got an electric charge of new ideas andenergy from the West Coast as Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 606 on May 31, legislation which will overhaul California’s approach to conserving water. The measures impose a number of new or expanded requirements on the state’s local water suppliers, and provide for significantly greater state oversight of local water suppliers’ water use, even in non-drought years. The two bills were adopted in response to Brown’s May 2016 executive order, which called for making water conservation a “way of life” in California.

Among other things, AB 1668 and SB 606 require the State Water Resources Control Board, in coordination with the Department of Water Resources, to establish long-term urban water use efficiency standards by June 30, 2022. Those standards will include components for indoor residential use, outdoor residential and commercial use, water losses and other uses. Specifically, the new laws set an indoor standard of 55 gallons per-person, per-day through Jan. 1, 2025. After that date, the amount will be incrementally reduced over time.

For the development of outdoor residential and commercial use standards, the bills require the California Department of Water Resources to conduct studies of landscaping and climate throughout the State by 2021. DWR will then provide the resulting data for development of urban water use objectives.
california-landscapeIn addition, the bills will require local water suppliers to calculate and comply with their assigned water use objectives and report progress on those objectives and actual use to DWR. New five-year drought risk assessments and water shortage contingency plans must also be incorporated into already mandated Urban Water Management Plans, which must be filed every five years.

Starting in 2027, local water suppliers’ failure to comply with these adopted long-term standards could result in fines of $1,000 per day to the water supplier during non-drought years, and $10,000 per day during declared drought emergencies and certain dry years.
These are just some of the many changes ushered in by AB 1668 and SB 606, which signal a new era of urban water management in the west, focused on customer-level water budgets scaled up to achieve utility-wide efficiency.  The regulatory groundwork for these conservation measures still needs to be developed, but the underpinning water conservation programs have been in place for years.

WaterSense Authorization at Last? Legislation Moves Forward in the Senate and House, Accomplishments Report Released 

Congress_clipThis could be the one that we’ve been waiting for. Legislation that would finally provide congressional authorization of WaterSense®, the EPA’s voluntary labeling program to identify products that conserve water, appears to be moving toward approval in the U.S. Senate and House.  As the wheels of Congress turn slowly, WaterSense announced that through the end of 2017, the program has helped Americans save a cumulative 2.7 trillion gallons of water and more than $63.8 billion in water and energy bills.  Additionally, the use of WaterSense labeled products have saved 367 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity.  

Will Congress finally take heed of this success and act to ensure the future of this dynamic and successful program? Even if authorization legislation does not pass, both the Senate and House Appropriations committees have directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to continue funding the highly successful WaterSense® program, a voluntary public-private partnership that has saved American consumers more than $46 billion on their water and energy bills since 2006.

WS Logo Meets CriteriaWhile neither the Senate nor House bills providing authorization contain specific funds for WaterSense, the Senate committee instructed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to continue the program at its current funding levels, and the House committee report simply directs "continued funding." These instructions from the committees are crucial for the continuation of WaterSense at least through September, 2019.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a major water resources measure including provisions sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, and others to authorize WaterSense. AWE was instrumental in the creation of WaterSense and has been a primary supporter of the program since its inception.

While WaterSense has been supported by both Republicans and Democrats in the White House, the current administration proposed shutting down the program as part of major spending cuts at EPA. That plan was displaced temporarily, however, by congressional directives contained in the massive government spending bill approved in March. But those instructions for EPA to continue WaterSense expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2018. So congressional authorization and/or further directives to continue WaterSense are vital to the future of this important program, which has 1,948 organizational partners and 2,900 registered certified irrigation professionals across the US.

The bill approved by the Senate committee, S 2800 – America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 – also extends favorable financing under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) to drinking water and clean water state revolving funds.

Stay tuned folks, AWE will provide updates as soon as they are available.

Supreme Court Punts FL v. GA Back to the Special Master 

supreme courtIn the last case of the last day of the term, a divided Supreme Court of the United States gave Florida another chance to prove it deserves more water from its upstream neighbor Georgia in a long-running battle between the two states.

They have been fighting what are affectionately known as the “water wars” for three decades over the waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, which covers more than 19,600 square miles in three states. The current Supreme Court battle has hit citizens in Florida and Georgia with a combined $100 million in legal fees, and they should buckle up for more.
At stake is whether the flow of water will favor Atlanta and the farmers of southwestern Georgia or the seafood producers of Apalachicola Bay in the Florida Panhandle, who say the environment and their livelihoods have been harmed.

In announcing the 5-4 opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer acknowledged the ruling is not a blockbuster.

“This is a technical case,” he said, about “equitable apportionment of river water among states, and other related legal and factual circumstances.” The Court concluded that Special Master  Ralph Lancaster of Portland Maine made too narrow of a ruling in the case at the conclusion of a five week Trial.  Justices Roberts, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kennedy (in his final vote on the Court) joined the majority.  Thus the saga of FL v. GA, 142, Original, continues.

Justice Clarence Thomas filed what Breyer described as a “thorough” dissenting opinion, joined by Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch.  The dissent notes, “If we contrast the de minimus benefits that Florida might receive…with the massive harms that Georgia would suffer…it is clear who should prevail in this case.”

Cited in the dissenting opinion was the testimony of Peter Mayer P.E. Principal of WaterDM, technical consultant to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, and editor of this newsletter. Mayer testified on behalf of the State of Georgia as an expert on municipal and industrial water use.

The case is now back in the hands of the 89 year old Special Master, with new instructions for the next phase of the proceedings in what are known locally as the “water wars”.  The Special Master in TX v. NM and CO -- which was heard on the same day as FL v. GA -- was replaced (with thanks) shortly after a ruling in that case was announced.

Visit the excellent SCOTUS blog site to learn more about FL v. GA and download the full opinion of the Supreme Court.  

Barrier to Debt Financing Finally Fixed

 GASB article pictureA policy change at the federal level means water efficiency and green infrastructure projects can finally once again be debt financed with water utility capex funds. This is a major new development that should help reduce the rate shock that has accompanied these programs, since lately they have been only financed with annual utility operating funds. Because of this, utilities have been paying for the decades-long benefit of these programs in the first two years of their construction, hardly the way to properly finance a utility asset.

The ability to debt finance has now come about because of a change in policy at the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which has decreed that these expenditures can now be listed on the water utility balance sheet as “regulatory assets” to be paid off with increases in rates over time to cover the capital expenditure. For more information on how this will work, click here. For an article about the issue, click here

Storage Declines along the Colorado River, Approaching “Uncharted Territory” 

Lake Powell bathtub ring 2Colorado River reservoirs are expected to drop below the half-full mark later this year, approaching a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.  Water level declines in Lake Powell (the bathtub wring of Powell is shown here in this June 2018 photo courtesy of K. Wright) and Lake Mead are about 50% of capacity and approaching the record low of 47%.

“We’re in uncharted territory for the system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “Everything is new, and it is all bleak. None of it is positive.”

Scientists with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation project the river’s reservoirs, including Lake Powell and Lake Mead, to drop to a combined 48 percent of capacity water level by the end of September. This level would be one of the lowest ever for the combined system. The previous total system water storage low point was on April 1, 2014 after the two driest consecutive years in the watershed when the river’s reservoirs were at 47 percent of capacity.  

Colorado Public Radio covers the story, here. 

USGS Update Tracks Substantial Declines in US Water Withdrawals, GPCD 

US public supply withdrawals and gpcd 1950 - 2015Lead by California and Texas, public water withdrawals continue to decline even as population increases, according to the Summary of estimated water use in the United States in 2015 

recently issued by USGS.  The report confirms the significant impact of urban water efficiency across the US.  Public withdrawals in 2015 were 7.4% lower than in 2010, and 2015 was the lowest year since 1985.  Per capita use in 2015 was 12.1% lower than in 2010, demonstrating the water efficiency increases that were achieved.

From 2010 to 2015, population in the United States relying on public supply increased 5.4 percent, or approximately 14 million people. Total withdrawals for public supply were about 39,000 million gallons per day (MGD) in 2015 and decreased 7.4 percent, from 2010 (42,100 MGD) to 2015 (39,000 MGD), continuing the decline in public-supply withdrawals observed from 2005 to 2010.

The largest decreases in total public-supply withdrawals at the state level were in California and Texas (1,150 MGD and 1,110 MGD, respectively). Decreases in California and Texas accounted for 78 percent of the overall reduction.

Significantly, water demand also declined in other key sectors, including agriculture and thermoelectric power.  The USGS has prepared an interactive infographic demonstrating the regional variability of water use in the US.

AWE’s Water Use in the US page offers more information on water use trends in the US, based on data from the US Geological Survey.  This update replaces the November 2017 interim update provided by USGS.

Technical Advisory Group Will Help Shape International Water Efficiency Standard 

A United States Technical Advisory Group (US TAG) is forming to have input into the proposed new international, tiered, water efficiency standard – ISO PC316 - Water efficient products – Banding that is under development by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

The ISO is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. As US TAG Administrator, the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) has reviewed the qualifications of all applicants, and confirmed the interest area balance of the TAG per ANSI Regulations.

Standards Australia is acting as the secretariat for PC 316 and the first meeting will be held in Sydney, Australia from Tuesday, July 24th through Thursday, July 26th. 

To learn more contact Pete DeMarco at IAPMO. 

July 26 AWE Webinar with Scottsdale, AZ 

AWE’s Exemplary Programs Series continues on July 26 at 1 p.m. CDT.

This webinar will showcase how AWE members Scottsdale Water and AIQUEOUS teamed up to minimize the labor-intensive task of processing rebates using an innovative online platform. Join us to learn how Scottsdale’s use of the WaterWays platform gave them what they needed, and see the positive results they’ve achieved using the platform for the past 2 years. Click here to learn more and to register.

 Impressive Infographics from AWE Member Durham Region, Canada 

AWE Member the Durham Region, Canada sent us these beautiful source water protection and value of water infographics to share with WEW readers.  Thanks Glen Pleasance!

 WaysToProtectUrbanDrinkingWater Don't flush bathroom sign   


water value infographic (2017)  

AWE Member Spotlight

Dropcountr Helps Diverse Communities Reach More Customers through Language Options 


To communicate effectively, water utilities must adapt messaging and materials to the unique needs of their customers. There is already a great deal of marketing advice aimed at increasing customer engagement–from split testing emails to conducting focus groups, but for many communities, that means thinking about how to communicate with an increasingly diverse customer base in their native language, or language of choice.

To help bridge this language barrier, Dropcountr partnered with a Southern California community to implement a Spanish language option for their on-line customer portal. Dropcountr, founded in 2013, provides water utility partners the ability to analyze their customers’ water usage data, send targeted group or personal messaging, and set automated alerts.

“Roughly 25% of the customers in our service areas speak Spanish at home, and in some areas it’s greater than 60%,” said Kellock Irvin, of Dropcountr. “It’s especially important to be crystal clear in areas of interest to the customer like usage details, billing information and alerts, and that was a large motivator to this development.”


To ensure that the dialect of Spanish was appropriate and most applicable to the areas they serve, Dropcountr used four translators from Southern California, Texas, and Mexico. Dropcountr’s focus on careful translation work–requiring coordination between a variety of professionals such as software developers, translators, and utility staff --  ensured equally strong customer messaging in English and Spanish.

The Dropcountr services, whether in English or Spanish, do not replace the important work of customer service and conservation staff at a water utility, but can aid outreach efforts by offering personalized messages to the customer in their preferred language. For example, the utility engagement tool allows utility staff to see the customer's language of choice. If staff need to send personalized messages to the customer, this can help them determine the best language to use.

Adapting to customer needs is especially important when requesting a change in customer behavior. For Dropcountr, this was a needed step; “accommodating the customer’s preference and needs is a good way to galvanize the community and guide the customer base to water conscious behavior,” said Irvin.

For more information on AWE Member - Dropcountr, please visit their webpage or reach out to Kellock Irvin via email. 

News Briefs and Web Links 

 Tied US Supreme Court decision means Washington must remove barriers to salmon migration and make other changes – the 4-4 ruling (with 1 recusal) is a victory for Tribal water and fishing activists. 

How to Submit Content for Water Efficiency Watch 

Water Efficiency Watch welcomes submission of articles, photos, stories, commentary, new technologies, web links, etc.  Please e-mail your submission to Peter Mayer – peter.mayer@waterdm.com.

DISCLAIMER: The Alliance for Water Efficiency reports on research and information as a service. This should not be considered an explicit or implicit endorsement of any product, service, research effort, analysis, etc. unless specifically so indicated.