There’s a reason our team works closely with Texas water utilities: when it comes to water conservation, utilities can be big agents of change in the communities they serve. And when utilities engage their customers in water conservation planning, their impact can be especially powerful.
The Water Conservation Plans that most Texas water utilities are required to create every five years are an excellent venue for providers and customers to work together to plan for their community’s water future. As utilities begin to work on their 2019 Water Conservation Plans, stakeholders can look to our recently-released Texas Water Conservation Scorecard update for clues about each utility’s progress on water conservation and what areas should be emphasized during planning.
The Texas Water Conservation Scorecard, released in 2016, was a first-of-its-kind, big-picture look at water utilities across Texas, evaluating them on their water conservation practices. Now, it has been updated with two more years’ worth of data, including:
- Has the utility submitted important annual reports that track Water Conservation Plan implementation progress (called the Annual Report) and water loss (called the Water Audit Report)? According to our data, fewer utilities turned in Annual Reports last year than they did in the previous year.
- How much water did the utility lose due to inefficiencies such as water leaks? According to our data, utility water loss increased from 2016 to 2017.
- How many of the state’s recommended municipal water conservation practices (Best Management Practices, or BMPs) has the utility implemented? According to our data, the average number of implemented BMPs slightly increased each year from the initial release to last year.
With three years of annually-reported data now on our Scorecard, anyone has a chance to see whether their utility has made progress on important water conservation practices that directly impact communities.
The next round of Water Conservation Plans are due May 1, 2019. Communities across Texas should now start asking their utility, “How are you planning for my and my children’s water future?” Likewise, utilities should look for opportunities to engage their communities in water conservation planning.
What are municipal Water Conservation Plans?
Conservation plans are a combination of water management strategies that tell the story of how a utility plans to supply water for its residents and customers. These strategies typically aim to reduce water use and water loss and maintain or improve water efficiency, and can be operationalized through various policies and programs, such as water reuse or upgrading metering infrastructure.
Some of these policies and approaches are evaluated in our Texas Water Conservation Scorecard, including:
- Conservation rate structures. Utilities can incentivize customers to use less water by structuring water rates so that the more water a customer uses, the higher the rate they pay. Because high-volume water users increase the need for a utility to build and maintain expensive water supply infrastructure (pipes and plants), by implementing a water conservation rate structure, utilities can ensure that high-volume water users pay for the necessary infrastructure to supply that higher demand for water.
- Outdoor watering limitations. In Texas we use a lot of water outdoors, and most of that use occurs in the summer. Because of this spike or peak water use, our water supply infrastructure has to be built large enough to meet this seasonal increase in water demand. A city or utility can realize significant reductions in annual and peak water use if it implements a mandatory year-round outdoor watering schedule. When cities choose to implement these limitations, they divert less water from rivers and creeks, allowing more water to flow and be used by fish and wildlife.
- Water loss data and validity. Water loss control programs are effective methods of accounting for all water usage within a utility’s service area. To help decrease water loss, the first step of validating the data is essential. The Texas Water Development Board hosts numerous water loss audit trainings across the state to assist in this effort. Also, investment in a third-party data validation process would help to ensure that collected data is objectively represented in terms of its validity, and can go a long way in reducing water loss from unknown sources within the utility.
Why are these water management strategies important to the community?
What goes into a water conservation plan directly can impact residents’ water bills and the resiliency of their community’s water supply.
Communities should be made well aware of water management strategies that could alter their water rates, the resiliency of their water supply, and how much water is lost from failing infrastructure. When a water utility doesn’t prioritize public participation or consider social impact, the residents of a community may bear the financial and social costs — from paying higher rates for expensive water sources, to the possibility of running out of water all together.
Water conservation planning should include the voices of people that will be paying the bill for the strategies included in their utility’s Water Conservation Plan.
Utilities need public participation in water conservation planning to meet community needs
While the Scorecard looks at multiple strategies utilities undertake to conserve water, the planning process is where these utilities decide which strategies are picked, what targets are decided on, and which Best Management Practices will be implemented to meet their community’s water needs.
Is your utility undergoing a comprehensive education and stakeholder process to inform residents of their water supply future and various options? In reality, many utilities are not doing this. How a utility does or does not plan its water use and conservation programs directly impacts their residents’ quality of life.
Are water utilities across Texas reaching out to the communities they serve when preparing the 2019 Water Conservation Plan? If not, now is the time.