Connecting Waterpeople

In the face of drought, cities turn to technology to combat water scarcity and recover

About the blog

Quinn Jackson-Elliott
Quinn Jackson-Elliott is the VP of Government Relations at Olea Edge Analytics, a provider of intelligent solutions and services for the water utility industry.

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  • In the face of drought, cities turn to technology to combat water scarcity and recover


With the recent deluge of rain, severe drought in the western U.S. is beginning to recede. Despite the recent reprieve for the west coast, localities and state entities cannot turn a blind eye to water shortages. 

Drought spurs water scarcity, and water shortages are still a pervasive problem for state and local governments. Water utilities are constantly trying to meet the demands of a growing population with a finite water supply. Drought conditions are inevitable, and cities must find new ways to address water loss and non-revenue water.

S&P Global Ratings found that cities battling drought may experience a reduction in revenue from their water systems because water is in such a scarce supply. In addition to adversely impacting billing rates for customers, this could have severe implications on a city’s budget, impacting economic growth, affecting property values and lowering credit ratings when borrowing.  Some utilities have turned to a data-driven approach to help them mitigate water loss and recover lost revenue opportunities.

While they only account for a small portion of the meter population a utility manages, large industrial and commercial meters make up a significant percentage of a city’s water revenue. These high-value meters can lose accuracy by more than ten per cent even under regular conditions, so cities must ensure they are operating with maximum accuracy in the midst of a drought. By placing sensors on large commercial and industrial water meters, cities are able to determine which meters are malfunctioning, what the cause is and how repairs or replacements should be prioritized.

Optimizing meters in Texas

The City of Irving has deployed this new technology as a means to monitor the performance of and diagnose potential problems on some of its largest water meters. Field crews were impressed by how quickly they were able to identify ineffective meters with this new solution as opposed to traditional testing methods. The program not only reduced Irving’s water loss but also recovered an estimated $160,000 in annual revenue, after repairing just 11 meters.

By placing sensors on large commercial and industrial water meters, cities are able to determine which meters are malfunctioning

Conserving water supply in California

The last several years of water scarcity along the west coast thrust California into the spotlight, as utilities were forced to find new and innovative ways to improve water efficiency and accountability. Recognizing that traditional methods of managing water supply were no longer sufficient, many California water leaders turned to new technology.

Several water utilities in California representing counties across the state recently deployed technology by Olea Edge Analytics to monitor some of their largest commercial and industrial meters using IoT sensors and AI. The sensors then collected data continuously over the next 7 days for analysis. On average, Olea’s technology found that almost 54% of the meters were underperforming to some degree, and one city was projected to reduce water loss by over 26.2 million gallons in the first year by repairing just 7 of the broken meters.

Unprecedented conditions call for innovative solutions

This is not the first time cities have turned to technology to help them battle a drought, but as the severity of these conditions increases, outdated methods simply aren't enough to combat water scarcity. In order to truly optimise the way water is managed and conserved, utilities must start the process by getting an accurate picture of where their water is going.

Commercial water meters are one of the biggest sources of cash flow for water utilities, with the potential to bring in thousands in monthly revenue. It’s only now that utilities have the technology to truly see and optimise meter performance. Cities can only ensure that water revenue is fully realized when they optimise metering and associated services.

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