Studies Examine Integrated Water Management, ‘Demand Hardening’ Challenges

Two recent reports have pointed the way for utilities to improve the use of water resources. The Water Research Foundation has completed a study, conducted with the Water Environment Research Foundation and Water Research Australia, to help utilities transition to an integrated water (one-water) management approach. Separately, the Alliance for Water Efficiency issued a report assessing how increasing water usage efficiency can impact demand hardening.

Oct 1st, 2015

By Patrick Crow

Two recent reports have pointed the way for utilities to improve the use of water resources.

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has completed a study, conducted with the Water Environment Research Foundation and Water Research Australia, to help utilities transition to an integrated water (one water) management approach.

The U.S. Water Alliance is leading a drive within the industry toward a more holistic approach to water, with green infrastructure complementing gray and centralized systems working in concert with decentralized systems.

WRF Executive Director Rob Renner said the current water landscape is quite different than 50 years ago. “The shift in the water community demands greater understanding and support for this type of transition, and our agencies are aligned in delivering on that need for our community members,” he said.

WRF explained that water utilities face a number of institutional and societal barriers to adopting integrated water management methods. The study, “Institutional Issues for One Water Management,” concluded that a one-water approach could effectively address a multitude of confounding factors through institutional arrangements and good management.

The project used case studies to show how utilities have resolved such transitional challenges.

In addition to the case studies, the report outlined methods for shifting to one water and suggested steps that water associations can take in order to create a conducive environment for a smoother transition.

WEF said the case studies indicated that strong leadership and vision from senior level personnel, as well as transparency around processes and information sharing, are key to driving an integrated water management approach.

Separately, the Alliance for Water Efficiency issued a report assessing how increasing water usage efficiency can impact demand hardening.

Funded by water utilities and the Walton Family Foundation, the report examined whether consumer demand can be “hardened” by the continued pressure of demand management programs.

The report noted that some water suppliers have said that future investments in long-term conservation programs will make it more difficult to achieve demand reductions during periods of extended shortage, since there will be less discretionary water use for the customer to reduce, an effect known as demand hardening.

Because data on demand hardening is meager, the paper drew on the historical shortage experiences of seven water suppliers: Boulder, Colo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; San Antonio, Texas; Petaluma, Calif.; Santa Rosa, Calif.; the Monte Vista (Calif.) Water District; and the Irvine Ranch (Calif.) Water District.

The study found no clear relationship between average per-capita demand just prior to the shortage and the percent reduction in demand that is achieved during the shortage.

It said residential customers appear to retain considerable ability to change their indoor water-using behavior, and with the significant amount of water still being used outdoors, customers can significantly reduce their total demand by making steep cuts in outdoor water use as well.

The report said the best water shortage contingency plans are highly dependent upon customer cooperation. “Managing customer willingness to cut demand during shortages is the key to preventing demand hardening,” it said. “Customers seem most hungry for information about how to improve outdoor water-use efficiency and how to keep their water bills low.”

The report also suggested that if customers mistakenly believe that conservation only fuels new growth or just makes their water bills higher, then “water suppliers need to do more about educating their customers that conservation also improves supply reliability.”


About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.

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