WaterSmart Innovations 2014: Lessons Learned

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Written by: Cora Kammeyer

It’s all about innovation
It’s in the name, but it bears repeating. The water utility industry has a bit of a bad rap for lacking innovation, and being decades behind its energy utility counterparts. But what I learned from WSI is that innovation in water has arrived!

And I don’t just mean tech innovation. The exhibitors and speakers at WSI were great examples of this. Sure, there was some incredible technology. The Toro sprinkler heads the size of your finger that contain over 50 separate micro-gears to maximize irrigation efficiency? Awesome. The Deep Drip watering stakes that get water to your tree’s roots without it evaporating away? Super cool. There were many great technologies on display that smart people have developed to save water. But there were other, equally important kinds of innovation too. Here are just a few examples.

  • AMWUA’s public outreach innovation. Their #SmartPig social media campaign has been wildly successful in raising awareness about water conservation and leak detection.
  • AWE’s economic innovation. Their interactive sustainable rate-structuring model is helping tackle the increasingly complex conundrum of conservation and revenue stability.
  • The Pacific Instiutue’s political innovation. Heather Cooley has combed through California’s energy efficiency policies and written about how they could be applied to water.
  • Our own behavioral water efficiency innovations. We are bridging psychology and technology to change the way that residential consumers think about water.

The next step is to figure out strategies for scaling across all of these areas. How can we foster the implementation of these innovations on a much broader scale, in a timely and effective manner?

We’re all a little wonky
Water is a strange thing to devote your career to – most people in the modern world take it completely for granted. So all of us who have done so are, well, a little strange! We all have fascinating stories about how we got into this business, and at WSI I learned that becoming obsessed with water on a cerebral level is a central part of most of those stories. Some other themes I picked up on were a common love for the beautiful natural systems from which we get our water, and a passion for protecting those systems by helping people use water as efficiently as possible.

It’s important to keep collaborating
The water world is a small one, and what I experienced at WSI is a tight-knit community. Relationships are important. People understand the vital importance of collaboration in this industry. Maybe it’s not quite right for your utility to consider a new investment or a new partner or a new project, but it’s important to keep building those relationships connections for a rainy day (so to speak). It may very well come in handy in the future. If there’s one thing we know for certain about the water industry it is that things are more uncertain than ever. Even if the opportunities our colleagues present don’t work out in the present moment, you never know when circumstances may change. And if nothing else, we keep in touch so that we will have friends to say hi to at WSI 2015!

For more thoughts on the conference, you can peruse our live tweets from the event.

Editorial lessons water efficiency wsi behavioral science