Managing Demand Collaboratively
In 2013, the city of Oakdale faced questions about the future of their water system. Located in California’s Central Valley, Oakdale relies on groundwater for 100% of its supply. The water is pristine, pumped straight from City of Oakdale aquifers into faucets with no treatment of any kind. But replacing old wells required large investments of time and money. Instead of setting its sights on future infrastructure projects, Oakdale turned to demand management, data analytics, and customer engagement to ensure sustainable water supplies for generations to come.
When Thom Clark arrived as the Public Services Director for the city of Oakdale in 2013, the water system was in dire need of attention. Oakdale’s groundwater infrastructure was aging, and drilling a new well meant a substantial financial outlay and a lengthy wait for the right equipment and construction crews. Thom and his team ensured that necessary construction would occur, but also promised the city council that this would be the last needed infrastructure project for the next 40 years. Thom planned to tackle future water challenges by investing in improved efficiency, not increased production.
A Balanced Solution
In the Central Valley, Thom reports, “People want a big yard with green grass.” Few people realize, however, that during the summer the Valley receives less precipitation than the Mojave Desert. Thom saw gains in water-use efficiency as a way to bring water usage more in line with available supply. Water-use efficiency is becoming recognized as an important tool to avoid future infrastructure expenses. “Conservation is ‘the new black’ and it’s not going away,” he declares.
Oakdale began to look into ways to turn dreams of a sustainable water balance into reality.Thom recognized that achieving true balance between supply and demand would require changing the mindset of the community and policymakers in his area. He noted WaterSmart Software’s proven model of social comparison and behavioral change and decided to form a partnership.
Oakdale worked with WaterSmart to create personalized Home Water Reports for local customers. In the reports and in the Customer Portal, consumers can see how much water their household is using, how that usage compares to similar households, and suggestions for how they can reduce their water use. In addition, the Oakdale water utility workers have access to the Utility Analytics Dashboard. It allows them to track consumer-level water use data and understand who is using what water and when. Rather than simply interacting over billing concerns, Oakdale now had a way to work with its residents in all aspects of water use.
The availability of detailed customer water-use data has helped build a strong relationship between the Oakdale water utility and residents of the city. When the first round of Home Water Reports was sent to local households, customers had many detailed questions about the data. “Everyone started calling,” Thom remembers. The city jumped on the opportunity to improve conversation with consumers, and Oakdale purchased a portable water meter and several iPads for utility workers. Now, field staff can easily verify water use at each household, help users explore the Customer Portal, and assist them in finding water leaks. This had a direct impact on reduced call volumes and higher customer satisfaction levels.
The city of Oakdale also uses WaterSmart Software to identify and communicate with the top water users each month. With accurate water use data in hand, the field staff and the customer can discuss ways to reduce consumption and avoid waste. Thom reports, “We’ve never been able to reach our customers like this before. Now we can really help them save water and money. It’s amazing!”
Out-Saving the Joneses
With easy access to powerful analytics and clear social comparisons, Oakdale has documented impressive water savings—from 2013 to 2014 Oakdale’s water consumption dropped by 20%. In fact, Oakdale led all cities in Stanislaus counties in water-use efficiency during that period. The next leading city reduced consumption by only 12%. “We’re all drawing from the same aquifer and employing the same efficiency programs. The only difference between us and those other cities,” reported Thom “is WaterSmart.”
Now, due to statewide drought restrictions, Oakdale must reduce its water usage by 32% from 2013 levels. Oakdale customers can use the Customer Portal to see how their water usage in 2015 compares to usage in past years and to the state drought reduction goals. Oakdale’s engagement efforts on this platform are working. Already the city has seen water savings of up to 40% relative to 2013. As worsening drought conditions grip the state, Oakdale has been able to preserve its pristine supply and avoid the need for further capital investment.
Oakdale set out to improve its water-use efficiency strategy and reduce the need for new infrastructure; the city has achieved this and more. Through increased focus on data and related customer engagement on the WaterSmart platform, the Oakdale water team has built a lasting conservation ethic. “Our guys are proud WaterSmart’s emphasis on data analytics and customer engagement has helped Oakdale dramatically improve water-use efficiency. of what they’re doing,” Thom explained. “They know it’s right.” Even beyond Thom’s team, the city manager is also excited about the ways that WaterSmart’s emphasis on data analytics and customer engagement has helped reduce Oakdale’s water consumption levels.
This conservation ethic stretches throughout the city—when residents open the Home Water Reports they are greeted with a celebration of all the city has accomplished: “Way to go Oakdale!”
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