WaterSmart Data Drives Water Conservation Efforts for Florida District

A customer engagement platform helps a Florida community promote water efficiency, encourage conservation and protect vital supplies.
WaterSmart Data Drives Water Conservation Efforts for Florida District
Users can view their water data on a variety of platforms, including mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.

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The St. Johns River Water Management District in Florida has launched a customer engagement platform to determine if utilities can promote water efficiency among users and ultimately conserve water.

Based on data collected since last fall in the city of Ocala, the platform appears to be successful on both counts. Called WaterSmart, it enables water utilities to analyze meter data and helps customers conserve and therefore protect vital water supplies.

Scott Laidlaw, chief of the district’s water supply planning bureau, says the customer engagement platform has led to savings of about 4 million gallons since it was implemented last September for 5,000 residential accounts in Ocala.

The most recent results indicate a 5 percent reduction in water use by platform users. Customer satisfaction with the utility’s water services has improved by 35 percent. Program results are validated using randomized trials comparing the 5,000 customers who receive the WaterSmart program against a control group of 5,000 Ocala residences that do not. “It’s significant,” Laidlaw says.

Ocala draws water from the Floridan Aquifer, and is located near Silver Springs, one of the state’s most treasured natural resources. Water conservation is critical in Ocala and throughout central and northeastern Florida, Laidlaw points out.

Growing region

Under the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972, the state had five water management districts. The St. Johns River district includes 18 counties and stretches from the Jacksonville area in the north, south along the coast to Vero Beach, and inland to Gainesville and Ocala. The district is responsible for developing and implementing a regional water supply strategy, protecting water quality, preserving natural resources and controlling floodwaters.

The population continues to grow rapidly here, and with it, concerns about the future of the water supply. Laidlaw says the City of Ocala (population 58,000) was chosen for the WaterSmart program because it is near the Springs and needs to conserve water. The city’s water treatment plant is rated at 24.4 mgd, and Ocala “is a good steward of the environment,” says Laidlaw. “They’ve been willing partners with us.”

The contract with WaterSmart runs through the end of September 2017. Working with the utility’s IT staff, WaterSmart provides an analytics dashboard that utility managers use to engage customers and gain insights on consumption.

Data visibility

“The dashboard contains all of the meter data for the residential and commercial accounts, along with property and housing data, and the ability to run analytics, like analyzing the biggest commercial accounts for increases or decreases in water, or how many people are participating in the low-flow flush toilet program,” says Chris Patton, director of municipal markets at WaterSmart.

“WaterSmart also provides an online and mobile customer portal and water reports that allow users to view critical data and learn how to conserve water, based on the utility’s regular meter readings.”

Customers can see the data on their computers, through email messages or in paper form, whichever they prefer. They can also receive leak alerts through text, email and voice. They are informed about their home’s water use in relation to homes of similar size and climate. In addition, they receive personalized information about household water use and customized water-saving recommendations. Targeted communications go to users who may be experiencing leaks or excessive usage during certain parts of the day.

WaterSmart works with residential, commercial, industrial and all other meter classes, says Patton. “We can be in constant contact with the customer regardless of the meter reading interval. The idea is to get customers to pay attention to their water use and make changes. Customers don’t understand how clean water gets to their taps.”

Sustainable supplies

The Ocala project seems to be successful on that score. Patton reports that 70 percent of the customers in the test group are paying attention and changing how they use water.
Sustaining water supplies is on the minds of water managers almost everywhere. Laidlaw and Patton agree that conservation can and should play a major role in preserving supplies for future generations.

“It’s the most cost-effective method,” Laidlaw says. “Before we spend millions on water supply projects or other infrastructure, we need to look at a variety of ways to reduce consumption and dependence on groundwater or surface water sources.”

Patton adds that conservation is not harmful to water utilities. “There’s a paradigm shift taking place. When you add up all the costs of treating and pumping clean water, conservation is a financially good move for water utilities.”


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