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California Fights Drought With Data and Psychology, Yielding 5% Usage Reduction 362

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the we-see-you-drink-too-much-water dept.
dcblogs writes with an article about hackers using technology to mitigate the effects of drought. From the article: "California is facing its worst drought in more than 100 years, and one with no end in sight. But it is offering Silicon Valley opportunities. In one project, the East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland used customized usage reports .... that [compare] a customer's water use against average use for similar sized households. It uses a form of peer pressure to change behavior. A ... year-long pilot showed a 5% reduction in water usage. The utility said the reporting system could 'go a long way' toward helping the state meet its goal of a reducing water usage by 20% per capita statewide. In other tech related activities, the organizer of a water-tech focused hackathon, Hack the Drought is hoping this effort leads to new water conserving approaches. Overall, water tech supporters are working to bring more investor attention to this market. Imagine H2O, a non-profit, holds annual water tech contests and then helps with access to venture funding. The effort is focused on 'trying to address the market failure in the water sector,' Scott Bryan, the chief operating officer of Imagine H2O."
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California Fights Drought With Data and Psychology, Yielding 5% Usage Reduction

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  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @11:56AM (#46286501)

    So, how long before they start redefining "average" down below the actual average so as to make even more people feel bad about themselves?

    After all, it's pretty much just a line of code to reduce the value displayed under "average use" to be, well, whatever the coder wants it to be.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Since average, and the way to calculate it are defined in the industry, changing it arbitrarily will be noticed.

      • by Kardos (1348077)

        Who's going to notice? Are the numbers available such that an interested person could verify the computation of the average?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by geekoid (135745)

          The industry takes the very seriously. You can bet people will point it out very quickly. I spent 8 years working with engineers and experts in that field. Like most trades, they like accuracy and professionalism with the engineers.

    • by DrXym (126579)
      You don't have to redefine the average. If people lower their consumption then the average drops by itself.
    • by careysb (566113) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:38PM (#46287041)

      In Denver we suffered through a drought that lasted a few years. There was a big campaign to get people to reduce their water usage - and it worked! People significantly reduced their water usage - so much that the water board was no longer getting the revenue that it said it needed. So, the rates went up.

      Funny how the rates didn't go back down when the drought was over.

      Also, not surprisingly, the golf courses got all the water they wanted.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        That's a classic conundrum in the industry.

        Are you sure yo aren't in a drought? A drought simple means you have less water then demand.
        More accurately, current demand will lower you water storage below a certain point. So if your population grows, you could get to a point where demand outstrips even a wet year.

        Also, the may be using the money to fund work, like underground tanks.
        I will assume you sewage is part of your water bill. They may have a large project that needs funding and your 'water bill' goes u

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ah, but Golf Courses are the red herring of California. It's what farmers, who are wasting massive amounts of water, like to point and scream at, to distract from the real issue - people growing shit where they have no business whatsoever growing shit. (And then shipping it to China. But that's another matter entirely.)

        Meanwhile, neither golf courses or farmers will be penalized - nay, households will be put to the sword if they don't wring the drippings out of their laundry and drink them.

        Amusing captc

        • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:21PM (#46287553)

          Yes 85% of water usage in California is Agriculture.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

          • by sbjornda (199447)
            My grocery store carries a lot of produce grown in California. Lettuce: A great way to transport water from the Californian desert to Canada.

            --
            .nosig

            • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @02:42PM (#46288411)

              That and 90 billion gallons of water in Alfalfa sent to China, and 97 billion gallons
              used for fracking...

              Also I hear the commercial water rate is lower then the residential rate, ie.
              the per gallon price is cheaper for the corporates then for the sheeple.

              So basically the citizens are paying corporate welfare to big AgriBiz.

        • by mspohr (589790) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:32PM (#46287677)

          Farmers in California grow a lot of rice which requires a lot of water. Most places that grow rice have lots of water. In California, even in "normal" years, there is no rain in the summer (dry season) so they have extensive dams and canals paid for by state and federal taxpayers which provide them lots of cheap water.
          This year, there is a drought so the reservoirs are dry and the farmers are whinging seriously about "their" water.
          California has lots of water for people... not so much to grow rice in the desert.
          (Same argument applies to most California farming which uses an unsustainable amount of water to grow food in a desert.)

          • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @02:01PM (#46287985)
            We have the same problem in Texas too. The rice farmers aren't willing to pay a free market price for water. They insist on paying 1/100th of what everyone else does. A long time ago, they got a law passed saying the water they used from the river each year means they own that much water from the river each year forever. Many won't even consider growing a crop that uses less water. "I've always grown rice. You can't tell me what to do with my water." Of course, they all vote for "free market" Republicans, because they'll keep the Mexicans illegal and protect us from Obama.
            • by timeOday (582209)
              Any "free market" that grants perpetual ownership rights to natural resources will eventually be bogged down in them and grind to a halt. Europe reached a state hundreds of years ago where land equated to wealth, and essentially the only way to get it was to inherit it, and feudalism is the direct consequence.
        • How are farmers wasting massive amounts of water? Do you know anything about food production and agricultural water use in general? American farmers do export a lot of food, but your food prices are low because of the wealth of food grown right in your backyard. Where are farmers growing food where they shouldn't be? Do you have an alternative? In many places, the best farmland is under cities now, perhaps pushing farmer to more marginal lands. This is an unfortunate consequence of growth. Granted.

          Farm

      • At least in Arizona golf courses are basically illegal. Some states get it right.
    • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:15PM (#46287523)

      The CA home user uses about 10% of the water, the other 90% is used by Agriculture and Industry.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

    • The only meaningful comparison would be sustainable water usage.
      People may realize one day that it isn't a good idea to build huge cities, swimming pools, golf courses and water shows in the friggin desert.

  • by oic0 (1864384) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:04PM (#46286615)
    Stop trying to farm and build huge cities in the desert. When you fuss about not being able to find enough water in the desert I just want to sit in my muddy, humid, rainy state... and watch you die of thirst.
    • by dcw3 (649211) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:27PM (#46287613) Journal

      Queue the late great Sam Kinison:
      You want to help world hunger? Stop sending them food. Don't send them another bite, send them U-Hauls. Send them a guy that says, "You know, we've been coming here giving you food for about 35 years now and we were driving through the desert, and we realized there wouldn't BE world hunger if you people would live where the FOOD IS! YOU LIVE IN A DESERT!! UNDERSTAND THAT? YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT!! NOTHING GROWS HERE! NOTHING'S GONNA GROW HERE! Come here, you see this? This is sand. You know what it's gonna be 100 years from now? IT'S GONNA BE SAND!! YOU LIVE IN A FUCKING DESERT! We have deserts in America, we just don't live in them, assholes!"

  • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:05PM (#46286623)

    so a group of peope had the brilliant idea of building massive cities and huge agricultural farmlands in a desert, made possible by unsustainable draining of acquifers and importation of water from other states.

    and now they have a "drought"?

    can't raise enough moisture for a tear over here....

    • by Kohath (38547)

      So you're against watering crops then?

      If you have good land, but it lacks water, then you find a way to add water, and then you can grow food there. Useless land becomes valuable and people can eat. You are apparently against this. Why?

      • by iggymanz (596061) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:27PM (#46286899)

        I'm against watering a barren blazing desert in the west trying to pretend its "farmland"

        • by Kohath (38547)

          There's no need to pretend. It's a farm when you water crops. It's not a farm when you don't.

          Are you against planting crops too?

        • by geekoid (135745)

          There aren't a lot of farms in Los Angels, and not all of Ca was desert.
          How is producing almost all the tomotoes used 'pretending' to be farmland?

      • If you have good land, but it lacks water, then you find a way to add water, and then you can grow food there.

        Like rice in the Sacramento Valley? Yeah, that makes sense in a semi-arid area.

      • by jxander (2605655)

        If you have good land, but it lacks water, then you find a way to add water, and then you can grow food there.

        Please define "good" as it pertains to land and growing food. Because I would think that lacking water is a pretty big impediment for good farmland.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        And if I take a tonne of gold and bury it in the ground, did I make a mine? Sure, I guess, but most people would call you crazy if you actually did that. It may be "farmland", but it's not good farmland (by and large, some areas of California are different, and some crops work very well in drier weather), especially when you're wasting massive amounts of water even on a good year.

    • Can't talk about a drought in/near a desert area without obligatory Sam Kinison.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

    • Actually per the wiki on California water most of the groundwater is not being used because it requires
      energy to pump it.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

      I think they could setup solar thermal powered pumps.

      Also the rights to the ground water are totally available to the farmer.

      This is more about cheap water, then the totality of water.

      There is enough groundwater to do what they need, but they will need to
      mind recharge rates if they switch to a major pumping operation or they
      end up like the Oolagah Aquifer

      • In truth this is a 1 out of 100 year drought. It most certainly is not manufactured as it has not rain yet in southern California and the rainy season is almost DONE.

        But to answer your post on why? The answer is easy. RAISE PRICES! Raise them high enough and then you can afford to pump them out with disiel powered pumps too. Keep in mind you can't just get the water out of the ground overnight.

        You need to have infrastructure to move it, rights, plenty of capital while you wait to get paid, etc. These things

    • by evilviper (135110)

      so a group of peope had the brilliant idea of building massive cities and huge agricultural farmlands in a desert, made possible by unsustainable draining of acquifers and importation of water from other states. and now they have a "drought"?

      I was thinking the same thing a couple weeks ago: People had the brilliant idea of building massive cities far up north, where ice storms and freezing cold weather is routine, and now they have shortages of natural gas, road salt, power outages due to trees taking down

  • by unixcorn (120825) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:09PM (#46286673)

    Why not simply lower the water pressure by 10% to curb water usage?

    • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:15PM (#46286749)

      Why not simply lower the water pressure by 10% to curb water usage?

      That might be practical but it depends on geography. You might find that people in low-lying areas need a high pressure just to that the water reaches the houses on the top of the hill. Also it depends on usage - someone with a conventional shower may save water when pressure is reduced, but someone who takes a bath or had a power shower probably won't.

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      ...to which people would respond by letting the tap run a little longer. If I want to take a bath, I don't have a set time I let the water run and get in. I have an amount of water I'd like to have in the tub, and if it takes another 45 seconds to get there, I just might not notice.
    • by Kardos (1348077)

      Might work for showers, but not for people filling bathtubs and washing machines.

      • 85+% of water is used for Agriculture and Industry.

        The majority of California water is used by the agricultural industry. About 80-85% of all developed water in California is used for agricultural purposes. This water irrigates almost 29 million acres (120,000 km2), which grows 350 different crops.[8] Urban users consume 10% of the water, or around 8,700,000 acre feet (10.7 km3).[9] Industry receives the remnant of the water supply.[10]

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W... [wikipedia.org]

    • by Kohath (38547)

      Why not find a way to supply the water people need? Why shouldn't everyone who is willing to pay the transportation costs be able to use as much water as they want?

      • by hawguy (1600213)

        Why not find a way to supply the water people need? Why shouldn't everyone who is willing to pay the transportation costs be able to use as much water as they want?

        Because politics. Farmers want 80% of California's water.

      • Good Point, one idea is a aqueduct/canal/pipeline from the Columbia River which has a discharge rate FAR beyond
        all the other California aqueducts combined.

        I'd say bring it down the coast at a flat elevation thus near zero energy requirements.

        Would be a good project to put ppl back to work much like the CCC of the last Great Recession...

    • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:34PM (#46286975)

      Because building plumbing is built on the assumption that street water pressure levels are a certain figure. Decrease the water pressure and you find you have a lot of buildings in which the top floor doesn't get less water--it gets *no* water.

    • Only 10% of the water used in California is home users, 85% is Agriculture, 5% is Industry.

      Home users are not the issue here, much like politics and wall street, greed is the issue.

  • by Snufu (1049644) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:25PM (#46286871)

    There is merely a shortage of raw materials (H2O) for big agriculture.

    Agriculture consumes 80% of the water in California and contributes 5% of the economy. There is sufficient water in California to supply the cities 5 times over.

    But before you fly-over states get all self-righteous, think about this the next time you buy fresh salad greens in January.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      "There is merely a shortage of raw materials (H2O) for big agriculture."
      that's the definition of drought. Not enough water for your needs.

    • think about this the next time you buy fresh salad greens in January

      Or the next time I get rice grown in the Sacramento valley - the perfect crop for a near desert.

      BTW, were you under the impression that CA and the Southwest are the only places that are warm in the winter and within easy reach of CONUS? Please check your map. The whole thing, including so-called "water rights", is a big subsidy to farmers, who also yell for cheaper labor because, bottom line, they wouldn't be competitive without these subsidies. Want to ship all our industry to China? No problem - just save

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      But before you fly-over states get all self-righteous, think about this the next time you buy fresh salad greens in January.

      I only buy moles' asses in January. I don't ask why the moles raise livestock, but they sell the stupid ones for extra cheap (which is great because they're less stubborn).

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      This [accuweather.com] says something different. 2013 was the driest year on record. I think that meets the definition of drought.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:32PM (#46286949)

    Did the usage reports really result in a 5% drop in water usage, or is it the fact that for the past 4 months, you can't watch the news without hearing all about the drought conditions and how people have to stop flushing their toilets so much. Meanwhile, residential use accounts for only 10 - 15% of California's water use, so even if everyone cut their use by 20%, it really wouldn't solve the problem.

  • by masman (811765) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:47PM (#46287155)
    I find residential usage citations vary from 5-13% of total California water usage. Let's say it's 10%. I'm having a hard time figuring out how cutting my usage by, say, a big 25% along with every other California resident is going to solve the problem when that represents maybe 2.5% of total water usage. Don't get me wrong, I see no reason to waste water unnecessarily, but I just don't get all the emphasis on residential usage when it's a drop in the bucket. What am I missing?
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:49PM (#46287177)

    Water saving measures have drained funds from water taxes that are used to maintain the infrastructure...

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com... [theglobeandmail.com]

    • by rtaylor (70602)

      Right. Save a couple billion on expanded water treatment facilities but you need a little extra per litre to cover the pipe maintenance.

      It's not a net loss.

    • by Insightfill (554828) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @02:14PM (#46288125) Homepage

      Water saving measures have drained funds from water taxes that are used to maintain the infrastructure...

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com... [theglobeandmail.com]

      The smarter towns do what many other (often private) utilities do - have a line item for "fixed costs" and another for "usage". You get a fixed charge of $10-20 for access to the utility, and then a per watt-liter-whatever charge for usage. Even if you use NOTHING, that flat cost comes in every month.

      Water billing is largely done on a city/village/town basis. Often, the water comes from a common-source (county 'water agency') which passes on costs to the smaller towns feeding off of it.

      Now: if someone along the way mismanages it [dgreport.com], that's a different problem.

  • A drop in a bucket. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @12:52PM (#46287239)

    Meanwhile billions of gallons of water from California are, essentially, being exported to China [wsj.com].

    NB: I apologize if the article is paywalled. The first look is free.

  • I do not understand why politicians wont do this. Raise the rates 400% and water usage will drop and in the end a true crises of NO WATER by the summer will be avoided.

    The laws of supply and demand benefit everyone even including the consumer. Why don't the left wing politicians see this? It benefits the consumer as Lake Mead wont dry up totally.

    When next winter when the snow and rain returns then you lower prices or keep them high while the reservoirs recover. ... oh heck who am I kidding. The top 3 big fa

    • by Nimey (114278)

      You'd have to make a progressive pricing system if they don't have it already: basic usage (what an average family would need for cooking, drinking, and hygiene) is very cheap, a band of usage above that costing more per unit, the next band of usage costing quite a bit more per unit, and so on, about how income taxes are figured.

      You'd also want to promote xeriscaping and using graywater for your plants and toilets.

    • by bunratty (545641)
      I think the left-wing politicians do see this. But when they talk about raising prices or increasing taxes, right-wing politicians complain about tax-and-spend. It's the right-wing that want to keep their hands off the market and let the market do what it will and complain about the left-wing interfering in the free market.
    • Lake Mead is current at 48% of full pool.

      One might say its average movement is toward empty, not towards full.

      I think most of the desert cities could do better with conservation, such
      as lawns, pools, farming, etc.

      A few states are drawing off Lake Mead.

  • by cpm99352 (939350) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:08PM (#46287431)
    I will take this seriously when they cease watering golf courses. Until then, it is just theater.

    "...each course each day in Palm Springs consumes as much water as an American family of four uses in four years. "
    http://www.npr.org/templates/s... [npr.org]
  • The problem is not a "market failure", it is that the market is distorted. If the true laws of supply and demand were allowed to work on the water market in California, then water would be a lot more expensive right now because of how rare it is due to drought.

    If the people are using too much water then raise the price. Define what consitutes a "drought" in strict terms (average rainfall below some amount for X days in a row), and raise the price per gallon of water an extra 50% during these drought conditions. Add in a credit for people below the poverty line so that they don't have issues.

    Usage problems will be solved overnight. Charge people more and they will use less. Wallet pressure works a lot better than "peer pressure".

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:44PM (#46287789)

    They just need to do what they've done in other western "dry" states and price water on consumption. In my state I pay a normal about $30 a month for the first 7000 gallons, which is enough for most moderately sized households internal uses. But the next 7000 gallons cost me double the $30 and the third set of 7000 costs me triple. In the summer my water bill goes from $30 a month to almost $300. This progressive pricing was introduced during our last big drought and water consumption went down 20% almost immediately and has continued to drop every year. Xeroscaping became very popular.

    In fact I'm in the process of ripping up several hundred feet of sod to be replaced with native plants.

  • by cellocgw (617879) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <wgcollec>> on Wednesday February 19, 2014 @01:48PM (#46287827) Journal

    That link to 'hackthedrought.org' is blocked because "Suspicious Content. Sites in this category may pose a security threat to network resources or private information, and are blocked by your organization."

    Teach them to put the word " |-| @ C | " into their URL! Nasty terrorists!

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