Conservation Scorecard: Challenges and Solutions

These seven Challenges are presented to California water utilities. POWER developed the Scorecard for the purpose of understanding how well we are doing after the fifteen year commitment to voluntary conservation. Many successes have been accomplished, but we have a long way to go. Our successes are our guideposts as we go to a more rigorous approach to attaining the simple goal laid out for us by the California Constitution: "because of the conditions prevailing in this State the general welfare requires … that the waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use of water be prevented." (Article X Section 2.) POWER offers these seven Challenges so water utilities can make ongoing improvement toward that goal.

1. Performance Measures

The POWER Scorecard demonstrates the difficulty in using Best Management Practices (BMPs) to measure performance. Half of the BMPs are not directly quantifiable, like public outreach, school education, having a conservation coordinator, etc.; many new technologies and approaches are not covered by the ten-year-old existing BMPs; and only one BMP currently has a performance option in it (BMP 9).

While the Best Management Practice approach is valuable, it should be complemented with a verifiable performance-based approach that can provide clear measurable standards toward clearly outlined water efficiency goals and allow more flexibility for water providers in meeting those goals. Several steps need to be taken:

  • Water efficiency potential needs to be studied by each agency, and by each region engaged in integrated regional planning.
  • Efficiency targets need to be established both within each agency, for planning regions, and for the State as a whole. Targets may need to be appropriate for California's unique biomes. The Governor's letter of February 28, 2008 offers a statewide goal of 20% reduction in per capita consumption by 2020, and invites legislation to incorporate the goal into statute.
  • Agencies need to have a "Conservation Plan" on the demand side, just as agencies have a capital improvement plan on the supply side. Those plans should be fully integrated into the agency's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Agency IRPs should be consistent with the Integrated Regional Water Management Plans.
  • Methods of measurement, analysis protocols, and evaluation frameworks need to be standardized across the industry and throughout the State for both public and private water utilities.
  • Reporting should be done annually, so performance can be tracked and indexed for weather variations, and provide a basis for continual improvement.
  • A process for independent verification of annual reports should be established.

Accurate and timely measurement and reporting are the basis for a performance-based approach which can produce continual improvement in water conservation within and among water agencies. The POWER Scorecard lists three clear performance measures that are candidates for such a metric (listed in the last three Scorecard columns):

  • Residential sector gallons per capita per day (gpcd)
  • Combined residential-commercial-industrial-institutional gallons per capita per day
  • Residential gallons per connection per day

2. Embedded Energy and GHG Footprint

Use embedded energy analysis and climate change greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis in evaluating and prioritizing water resource planning and implementation. Imbedded energy in water can be an early surrogate for the global warming impacts of different water resources. But the full life cycle impact of water resource acquisition and implementation strategies should be measured for their climate change impacts. By not including imbedded energy and environmental impacts with GHG analysis, the traditional cost/benefit analysis comparing water resource options is in reality a market distortion. Agencies should analyze their GHG footprint, and agencies should become involved with the California Climate Registry, and the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).

3. Triple Bottom Line

Undertake triple bottom line analysis of new and existing water resources. Implications of not just financial cost/benefit(s), but also environmental and social costs and benefits, should be included in water agency planning and project implementation. For example, an environmental benefits model is a part of an avoided costs model developed by CUWCC (see CUWCC Technical Resources at).

Social considerations should also be considered. Most water agencies are local governments (municipal or special districts), with both ratepayers and taxpayers. Resource allocation and project investment have local social implications. For example, conservation investments generally benefit the customer directly, saving consumers not just water but money, which is then reinvested and circulated in the local economy. But an additional social benefit is that most conservation investments are made in the local community, creating local jobs. Agencies need to pay more attention to the value of community benefits and local investment. It is time to take a comprehensive approach to assessing costs and benefits which can better assess the true value of our actions in our communities as well as the environment. Private water companies (investor owned utilities, or IOUs) should share this view as part of the obligation to be good corporate citizens in the community.

4. Indoor Conservation

Utilize all indoor conservation technologies and practices in all sectors (residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, landscape) where economic, environmental and social benefits outweigh costs. Devise methodologies to measure performance and give early adopting agencies credit for the conservation work already done. Devices are appearing in the marketplace faster than the traditional MOU BMP approach can process. More and speedier research needs to be funded to determine water/energy/GHG savings for conservation technologies and practices, and methods for giving performance credit need to be established for pro-active agencies that go beyond existing BMPs. When conservation products reach maturity in the marketplace, a process should be in place to phase old standards out and new standards in to plumbing and building codes and local and state ordinances, ending the need for incentives and rebate subsidies.

5. Landscapes

Landscape irrigation is where the water is. This is the area of most potential for saving water; landscape conservation is addressed in the MOU by BMP 1 and 5, but the POWER Scorecard shows that program implementation of these BMPs has been ineffective and/or spotty. These BMPs have the lowest compliance levels. Programs to influence developers and the landscape industry need to be robust. Programs like "California Friendly" are a good beginning. But landscaping with native species and drought tolerant plants is the exception, not the norm. Our landscapes do not celebrate the biomes in which we choose to live, and more often than not are characterized by a national aesthetic defined by temperate rainy summer climates and not dry Mediterranean climates. We need to have the courage and foresight to undertake a massive, long term campaign to change our landscape aesthetic to choices that are appropriate for our Mediterranean climate, that match our season and our rainfall, and that show we love where we live. Successfully moving to a new landscape effort will take unprecedented cooperation and integration of local land-use authorities, water utilities, and the Legislature and Governor.

6. Markets and Meters

Agencies need to develop a closer marketplace relationship with the customer. Marketplace principles and practices will help agencies partner with customers to achieve conservation savings. Leading water agencies have recognized that selling water with rates based on volume is the best business practice for efficiency (e.g. new BMP 11), and that inclining rates promote efficiency, and give incentive to conserve water.

But sending the price signal to customers is only half the relationship; the customer needs to receive the signal in a timely way and with clear billing statements that are information rich. New generations of water meters will allow both agency and customer to know how much water is being used in real time and at what prices; time of use billing will be an option, and water budgets can be managed accurately in real time. Agencies and customers should endeavor to transform the water meter market over the next generation of meter change-outs, so that buyer and seller can understand the transaction as it occurs. Timely measurement, feedback, and understanding are the foundations for performance-based approaches.

7. Transparency

The last challenge to all water utilities is not just to fully take on our previous six challenges, but to do so with full disclosure and transparency. Include key stakeholders in the process and keep the public, ratepayers, and taxpayers informed.

The POWER Scorecard presents this conservation data for the first time in one place, and it shows we have a lot of work to do. POWER challenges the water utilities and the California Urban Water Conservation Council to successfully complete by the end of 2008 the BMP revision process it has begun, which will streamline the BMP process, make it up-to-date, and include improved data base reporting capability. POWER challenges water utilities and regional and state agencies to make data easily available and understandable so there is no need for a POWER Scorecard next year.

Join the Conversation

POWER invites you to join the conversation on our website and at the annual California Water Policy Conference, where we celebrate our solid successes, and engage in the dialogue that will move us forward. We invite your participation.
©2018, P.O.W.E.R.