California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Water Supply Strategy presents a bold vision vital to managing the future of California’s water supply as the Golden State looks to address its looming water concerns. The strategies for developing new water supplies, expanding water storage capacity, reducing demand and modernizing rights management create a blueprint for how other states can take action against water scarcity.
As sweeping proposals begin to take shape, it’s time for the hands-on work to begin. Any great project must begin with an honest assessment of the current situation. But accounting for every drop of water in California’s 3,000 community water systems is much more difficult than it first appears.
Think of each of those utilities as managing its own individual internet: a distributed network with a complex set of connections linking together millions of people. With the internet, however, we understand where the critical data is going and what happens when a piece of the network goes out. It’s not the same with our most valuable resource.
Utilities across the country are battling the problem of water loss. A recent report found that Texas cities lost 51 gallons per day for every household and business. Some studies estimate that U.S. water utilities lose 16% of their water each year. We would not accept that type of loss in our other utilities like gas and electricity, and we cannot accept it when it comes to our limited water supply.
In a time of crisis, water accountability is the foundation for efficiently managing an increasingly limited water supply. Without a complete picture of where a utility’s water is going, it’s impossible to determine where water loss is occurring. It’s like solving a puzzle without all the pieces. Even a minor leak or seemingly insignificant damage to a pipe could result in massive water loss.
One aspect where improved visibility could have an outsized impact is in creating a better understanding of the large commercial water meters that serve businesses and apartments. Although they account for only a fraction of the total number of meters, these large meters can lose an estimated 300 billion gallons of water each year. They’re also prone to malfunction, losing accuracy by more than 10% each year. It’s particularly important to keep commercial meters working properly because they can contribute around half of a utility’s annual revenue. With more insight, utilities can keep better tabs on one of their most valuable assets.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that California and Silicon Valley are working to address the state’s water challenges with game-changing technology. Innovative processes like desalination and water reclamation are key pillars of Newsom’s plan and represent massive undertakings. There are some simple steps utilities can take first to improve water accountability and reduce water loss.
As water scarcity becomes the new normal, cities are under intense pressure to efficiently manage water and account for every drop. Utilities today are at an inflection point, fighting a systemic problem with aging and economically constrained systems.
Any great journey begins with a single step, and accounting for every drop of water is the first step to creating a sustainable future.