California Using Data To Maximize Water Conservation Efforts

Even as the Golden State has a wetter fall, California's water leaders have launched a new tool to leverage information technology and available information to support decisions around local water reliability.

3 minute read

December 5, 2016, 8:00 AM PST

By rzelen @rzelen

recycled water sign

tyger_lyllie / Flickr

Last month, the White House Council on Environmental Quality partnered with the California State Water Resources Control Board and other agencies to launch the California Water Data Challenge. In an exclusive interview with The Planning Report, State Water Board Chair Felicia Marcus discussed the importance of leveraging publicly available data to support creative solutions to California’s water challenges, as outlined in Governor Jerry Brown administration’s California Water Action Plan.

Marcus, who previously served as the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region IX, described the opportunity of the Data Challenge as a way government has "basically thrown open the doors for the data world to look at all of the Water Action Plan and come up with their best ideas." As the recent historic drought has focused people's attention on utilizing data and technology to advance sensors and groundwater management, the State Water Board has looked for ways to incorporate basic water data from a rudimentary level. As Marcus explains, "Only in the last couple of years have we gotten the authority to ask for basic data on water use in more real time. In just the last two years, we’ve developed more data that we’ve ever had."

The challenge ahead is creating a culture of efficiency, Marcus believes, where the state can figure out a reasonable amount for each person indoors and for a landscape of whatever size that’s appropriate for your climate. Next steps for the State Water Board include updating Governor Brown's 2009 statute that aims for a 20% reduction in water use by 2020, as California will need to rapidly increase efficiency and water reuse as climate change impacts decrease Northern California snowfall. In thinking about the future, Marcus opines: 

"We’re thinking about the next generation of that—not just a percentage off a given baseline calculated any number of ways, but a more fair and transparent way of finding a reasonable amount of water for Californians to aim for over a reasonable time period to become more resilient, to be more equitable because people are moving toward a similar target.

That’s where fairness comes in. People need some kind of guide or metric as to what’s reasonable and fair to aim for, so they don’t have to worry that they’re being held to a different standard than others. Data and transparency helps us to do more than assert that something is fair, but to lay it out so that everybody can see where other people are and that they’re moving toward it. I think it creates something of a social contract—a sense that we’re all in this together—around using our energy and water more wisely in an increasingly climate-disrupted world."

Check out Chair Felicia Marcus' assessment of the state's work to also increase the use of recycled water in The Planning Report.

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