Is Demand Management the New Water Supply?

Every morning, people across America wake up, brush their teeth, flush the toilet, take a shower, and make coffee — each of these tasks using some of the daily average water consumption, which according to a 2016 estimate by the Water Research Foundation, is approximately 58.6 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). And more than likely, the consumer doesn’t stop to think about how much water they are using, where it is coming from, and if there will be enough water supply five, 10, or 15 years from now. Meanwhile, those topics are the sole focus of water agencies. Every day, water agencies manage water supply based on resources and demand, consider how to improve water efficiency, and decide if conservation measures are needed. In states like California, Texas, and Florida, mandated water allocations and statewide water use objectives create additional challenges.

None of us have a crystal ball, but we know our drinking water is finite. While indirect potable use is increasingly deployed and direct potable use regulations were recently promulgated in California, these options are costly and may not be enough to solve future water shortages. This is why demand management may be the new water supply, requiring data such as unit water savings, cost to implement, timeline for savings, and several other assumptions to model water, energy, and cost savings can that be achieved through passive and active conservation methods.


Leslie Dumas

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Methods of Conservation

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates individuals could use 20 percent less water by installing water efficient fixtures and appliances. Passive conservation focuses on water efficient fixture requirements for new buildings and replacement programs for existing properties. About 30 percent of water used daily by the average household is devoted to outdoor use, according to the EPA. Active conservation addresses landscape irrigation programs, as well as water use alerts, rebates for replacing existing fixtures with water efficient models, and regular site visits.

Both active and passive conservation methods can present different challenges, however. In California, where a recent study suggests existing median use is between 48 to 50 gpcd, demand hardening is a real possibility, as well as conservation fatigue. Residents have implemented different water efficient technologies and reduced their usage in such a way that it is difficult to conserve more, and they are also tired of being asked to use less water. In seasonal tourism dependent states like Florida, the average daily usage fluctuates, which makes it difficult to collect reliable, consistent data.

Forecasting Water Consumption through Data

Good forecasts of future water consumption rely on good data about current use. Data collection starts with meter and billing records for residential indoor and outdoor use, as well as for commercial, institutional, and industrial (CII) uses . Agencies can quickly identify any potential water loss in the system by comparing the meter records with the number of gallons treated daily at facilities. Other easy to collect data includes state and federal information regarding population, aerial residential imagery, referential evapotranspiration, effective precipitation, and water loss economic models. Taken together, these data sets help identify current water consumption levels and provide a baseline to measure against an agency’s targeted consumption rate.

There are tools for conservation tracking and water use comparison available through industry associations that demonstrate how useful certain conservation measures could be and what benefits are being achieved. The tools format the data in a user-friendly way to identify a range of conservation plans, provide interested parties with information for commentary, and serve as a resource for adapting to assumption changes. Woodard & Curran’s information and data management experts collaborate with our water resources team to further customize these tools and create innovative platforms to streamline our clients’ conservation tracking efforts and regulatory reporting. We also develop public facing sites for customers to submit online applications for water efficiency rebates, track the process of approval, and see the results of conservation efforts.

Planning for Variables

Regardless of how much data is collected, collated, and analyzed, forecasting water demand is still not a perfect predictor of future water use. New residential development, an influx of population, new businesses, seasonal tourism, weather patterns, and a myriad of other factors can impact how much will be consumed in five or ten years down the line. Planning for these variables in water demand requires agencies to monitor the data sets in comparison to projected versus actual use and adjust conservation programs accordingly. This is a great place to leverage historical water use data because external factors, such as a national recession or global pandemic, impact actual water use and can inform how similar circumstances might change demand.

This is another place where our water resources team partners with clients to keep an eye on conservation programming, water use data, groundwater modeling, and other tools to adapt and adjust according to consumption goals. Beyond managing demand and supply, the data can inform treatment processes, facility sizing, or upgrades and replacement programs. Taking the step to have well organized, digitally managed data, enables the most accurate path forward for water supply sustainability, as well as opening up opportunities for regional collaboration and programing partnerships, as well as state and federal funding.

Want to Know More?

Leslie Dumas is presenting on this topic at the Florida Water Resources Conference, starting at 9:30 a.m., Thursday, April 4, 2024.

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