News | January 14, 2014

New Technology Reduces Home Water Use By 5%

Independent Report Shows the First Large-Scale Deployment of a Behavioral Water Efficiency Program Greatly Reduced Water Demand at a Major California Utility

The California Water Foundation (CWF), East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), and WaterSmart Software jointly announced recently the results of an independent study that indicates providing information that helps households compare their water use to neighborhood averages can reduce residential water use by 5 percent. This approach is called social norms based water efficiency technology or "behavioral water efficiency." Today's announcement comes on the heels of recent drought alerts made by various California municipalities.  A link to the study is here (http://californiawaterfoundation.org/uploads/1389391749-Watersmart_evaluation_report_FINAL_12-12-13(00238356).pdf).

"Californians want to use water responsibly, and most people believe they already do. This research shows that people are motivated to conserve water when you let them know that their water use exceeds that of similar homes," said Lester Snow, Executive Director of the CWF which helped fund EBMUD's WaterSmart Software pilot, as well as this new, independent analysis.  "Water use reports like those used in this pilot program could prove an especially helpful tool for California water utilities, which face state requirements to reduce their per capita water use 20 percent by 2020 and must think of new, creative ways to encourage consumers to conserve water."

The EBMUD pilot made use of a behavioral water efficiency approach to promoting water efficiency. The behavioral water efficiency approach provides information to consumers that compares their household's water use to the average use by similar homes. Behavioral efficiency programs have been used successfully by energy utilities in the past, but the EBMUD pilot is the first large-scale implementation of the technology by a large, urban water utility. CWF's evaluation confirms that this type of program can help water agencies across the country use less water. If implemented by urban water agencies in Californiaalone, a similar 5 percent annual water savings could go a long way toward meeting the 20 percent statewide water reduction per capita goal.

"With 2013 being one of the driest years on record in California and predictions of a similarly dry 2014, new behavioral water efficiency technologies like the one used in this pilot project represent an invaluable tool for water agencies in communicating with their customers about efficient water use practices," said Richard Harris, EBMUD Manager of Water Conservation.

During the one-year pilot, 10,000 EBMUD residential customers were provided visual, easy-to-understand water use reports, developed by WaterSmart Software. The individualized reports provided customers with their personal water use data, compared their water use to similar sized homes in the area, and made personalized recommendations on ways to save water. A control group helped ensure that other factors affecting water use, such as weather and other market or consumer behaviors outside the pilot were taken into account when estimating water savings.

In addition to the average 5 percent reduction in residential water use, study findings showed that customers were more than twice as likely to participate in other EBMUD water conservation programs than customers who were offered the same programs but not told how their water use compared to the average. They were also more than six times as likely to request a home water audit to help them identify ways to save water.

"Our customers are conservation-minded and don't want to waste water. They want an answer to this basic question: 'How efficient am I?' We were able to provide specific feedback for them, coupled with water-wise tips and are pleased to provide this new service to help customers manage their water use," said Richard Harris. "We were targeting a 2 percent increase in conservation, and our customers achieved 5 percent. The WaterSmart program exceeded our expectations plus helped us increase our customer engagement." 

Based on the success of its pilot, EBMUD is moving forward in 2014 with plans to expand its social-norms-based pilot program that EBMUD hopes will be used by many of its residential customers in years to come.

"WaterSmart is unique because it's proven to reduce water demand through behavior change," said Peter Yolles, WaterSmart Software CEO and co-founder. "By comparing individual use with similar households, WaterSmart leverages the powerful influence of peer group comparison to rapidly change water use behavior. Research shows that behavioral efficiency programs are more effective at reducing demand than generic bill inserts, public service messages or economic incentives."

About California Water Foundation
The California Water Foundation (CWF) seeks to transition California to a sustainable and resilient water future – a future in which water is managed as a natural resource, looking across all sources and uses to find the best solutions for social welfare, economic development, and environmental sustainability.  CWF supports innovative projects and policies that address water challenges today, while achieving long-term, science-based solutions for the future. CWF is an initiative of Resources Legacy Fund, with primary funding from S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Pisces Foundation, and additional support from David and Lucile Packard Foundation and others. Learn more at: http://www.californiawaterfoundation.org.

About East Bay Municipal Utility District
EBMUD has a proud history of providing high-quality drinking water for more than 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. EBMUD's award-winning wastewater treatment plant protects San Francisco Bay while serving 650,000 customers.  The District's main offices are located in Oakland, California. For more information please visit www.ebmud.com.

About WaterSmart Software
WaterSmart Software helps water utilities engage with their customers to save water and money. WaterSmart's core technology is a turnkey, cloud-based platform for water utilities that employs sophisticated analytics and behavioral science tools to reduce residential water demand. The company has won the SXSW Eco Award for Cleanweb and Imagine H2O's water efficiency prize, and was named an Artemis Top 50 Water Company. For details, visit: www.watersmartsoftware.com.

SOURCE: California Water Foundation