A fourth year of extreme drought conditions in California has forced residents to reevaluate how they use water on a daily basis. Now we are hearing speculation that El Niño could be the long-awaited resolution to the water crisis in the Western US, but it’s important for residents and officials to remain vigilant and not rely on volatile weather patterns to solve the issues we face. California’s snowpack is the lowest it’s been in 500 years, and NASA estimates that California’s “rain debt” equates about one full year of rainfall. El Niño alone won’t solve the water crisis. In fact, between the drought and subsequent wildfires, many forests that once helped to absorb rainfall and strengthen the soil have been wiped out, so ironically, El Niño might be too much rainfall too quickly.
While we wait to see the impact of El Niño, initial reports also show that Californians have already banded together when it comes to reducing water usage. In a September report by the State Water Resources Control Board, Californians successfully reduced water use by more than 26 percent during September, which exceeds the Governor’s initial 25 percent conservation mandate for the fourth month in a row. However, as severe conditions remain and the drought and water top Californians’ current list of concerns about the state — even over the economy — for the first time in years, there needs to be simpler ways for consumers to monitor their day-to-day water usage. For example, leaking pipes account for 10 percent of urban water consumption. So while many Californians are choosing to rip out their lawns — which is a substantial step — they could still be one of the many households that unknowingly contribute to the billions of gallons of water lost every year due to leaking pipes.
This is why innovative technologies to solve and reduce the impacts of the drought are of critical importance. According to Next 10, California registered nearly twice as many water patents as the next leading state of Texas in 2014, which shows promise that there are pioneers out there who are working to help address the problem. It’s no coincidence that also in 2014, California passed a $7.5 billion water bond designed to fund investments in water projects and innovations, highlighting the importance of water-focused policies and regulatory incentives.
We need to fast-track the adoption of innovative water technologies that would give Californians more detailed insight into, and control over, their water use. Without real data, it’s nearly impossible for residents to truly hold themselves accountable for the water they consume. Just like a speedometer in a car provides real-time data for drivers to monitor and adjust their speed, Californians need real-time data to monitor and adjust their water use.
The good news is that several water technologies are already available to help manage household water usage and measure the impact of current conservation efforts. For example, using available technology, customers from Glendale Water & Power can view their water usage information in hourly, daily and monthly intervals; they’re not limited to just reviewing their water bill every other month when it’s too late to course correct. Further, customers have the ability to set usage goals and compare their water use against the regional water use average. In an ideal world, all Californians should be able to access this kind of information from their smartphones, but it’s going to take a concerted effort to prioritize investing in the technological upgrades necessary to deploy this statewide.
We’ve also seen the importance of data acquisition and constant monitoring recently from California itself. A report from the Wall Street Journal explained how recent legislation intended to help the drought has prompted California state agencies to monitor the drought and water levels by using sophisticated sensors in critical areas. While the information being sent to state agencies from these solutions aren’t necessarily in real-time, they are continuing to work on building an infrastructure that allows agencies to see the information much more quickly to make policy decisions that will aim to resolve the effects of the drought. The importance of state agencies being able to closely monitor drought conditions is obvious, but there needs to be continued effort to get these types of technologies in the hands of consumers so they can get more involved by paying attention to their own water usage.
Many of us are fully accustomed to receiving real-time data about virtually everything: calories burned, steps taken, miles logged. “Smart beds” can even tell you how well you slept last night. In light of this extraordinary drought, Californians need the same actionable, real-time data about their water use. I urge the state’s policymakers to direct resources toward the implementation of technologies that help detect water leaks and collect water use data. This will give Californians the information they need to better adapt to these unprecedented drought conditions and our new way of life in the Golden State.
Deepak Garg is CEO and chairman of Smart Utility Systems, a provider of cloud-based solutions for customer engagement, workforce mobility and intelligence and analytics to the energy and utility sector.