If water drops could talk, they’d be saying, “To know me is to love me, whether in good times or bad, abundance or drought.”
Drought is the trend in many regions. 2013 was the driest year on record in California since the 1849 Gold Rush era, sparking fears over drought, wildfire and crop loss, according to a USA Today article. Los Angeles received less than 4 in. of rain for the year, down from its average of about 15 in.
Also growing in importance is the challenge to balance affordability and true value pricing. Utilities across America continue to raise water and wastewater rates annually at rates higher than inflation—an average of at least 5%, with very large boosts of 25% to 40% or more, depending on the mandate and the fallout, according to Global Water Intelligence.
The obvious, but often untaken, first step to tackling water scarcity and ratepayer affordability is awareness. The following are some examples that offer hope for sustainable wetness through awareness, action and innovation.
Value of Water Coalition
Over the past two years, a unique and far-reaching coalition of national water and wastewater associations and companies has been shaping a communications campaign for water and its infrastructure, or as I like to say, “for helping people love their water and invest in its future.” The coalition of public and private, water and wastewater organizations launched its initial efforts in October 2013 (www.thevalueof
water.org) and has big plans for significant outreach and partnership. My employer, the U.S. Water Alliance (www.uswateralliance.org), is one of the 12 founding members and is taking on the role of project manager in the new year.
The Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) (www.a4e.org) also is a leader in education and action. Its Conservation Tracking Tool is the first model to help providers not only design cost-effective water conservation options but also evaluate energy savings and revenue impacts. AWE’s 2012 State Scorecard ranking for efficiency policy and its research on in-stream flows, plumbing, rate structures and revenue streams all are increasing understanding and spurring action.
America Made Better
Anheuser-Busch and its Budweiser brand are advancing water conservation and protection with employees and consumers through Budweiser’s “America Made Better” campaign (www.causes.com/americamadebetter). In 2013, a 10-day commitment from almost 3,000 employee households saved more than 1.2 million gal of water. In addition, since 2007, Anheuser-Busch has reduced water use in its U.S. breweries by 40%. The breweries use on average less than 3.5 units of water to produce one unit of beer, making them one of the most efficient in the world. “More hops per drops” may not be one of its slogans, but it should be.
American Water, a founding member of the Value of Water Coalition, has spent 125 years learning and growing in the water and wastewater industry, and since 1981, has become a leader in science and research—including pioneer work in acoustical leak detection (www.amwater.com). Its latest effort, as part of an award from an international foundation, involves development of an “advanced pressure management system” to reduce water pressures under low flow to curtail leaks and non-revenue water. It also has helped to accelerate the movement toward mobile automatic meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure to reduce waste and increase service. Daily meter reading and leak listening surely are waves of the future.
Hope springs in 2014. If trends continue, we’ll see lots of smarter, faster, and more detailed data on water quantity and quality. Seems as though water drops already are talking, and many of us are listening.