Here’s a California conundrum: The state is suffering through a drought of apocalyptic proportions, yet water consumption is actually inching up.
What gives? Part of the problem is that Californians have no idea how much water they’re using, let alone wasting, each day. Most water bills typically arrive monthly or quarterly, and by then the water is literally down the drain. A recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that Americans underestimate their water use by a factor of two.
Now there’s an app called Dropcountr that beams data on water consumption to your smartphone or computer. The idea is to help people better manage their water use, set conservation goals, and compare their water consumption to their neighbors’. They can also get information on utility rebates for installing water-efficient devices such as low-flow toilets and drip irrigation.
California imposed statewide water restrictions this month, and some cities, such as Santa Cruz, are hitting residents with stiff financial penalties if they exceed their monthly water ration. If you’re about to reach your limit and incur extra water charges, Dropcountr will raise a red flag.
“I get a lot of mail I don’t even look at, and that’s the case of most water information,” said Robb Barnitt, Dropcountr’s CEO. “We’re partnering with utilities to present information in an intuitive and actionable way to end users through smartphones, tablets, and the Web.”
The app analyzes your water consumption, and if it sees unusual spikes, it will send an alert suggesting you have a leaky pipe or a malfunctioning toilet. If your utility uses smart water meters, the app will update your water use data every five minutes. If a meter reader still pays your home a visit, the data will be updated every month.
Barnitt pointed out that mobile phone companies inform customers when they’re about to exceed their data plan limit or run out of minutes. Water utilities, in contrast, are more hands off.
“We’d like to personalize users’ relationship with water and empower them with tips and ideas on how to save water,” he said. “Since the drought declaration, the government response is flashing signs on the side of the highways. Our approach is to put the information in people’s hands, which we think can make a huge impact.”
The strategy has been shown to work when it comes to electricity use. The company Opower, for instance, combines data it downloads from utilities with behavioral science to get people to cut their energy consumption. Opower works with 90 utilities, the latest being TEPCO, Japan’s largest power provider.
The Dropcountr app is free, but the company charges water utilities for the service.
So far, Dropcountr has signed up two utilities in California, but Barnitt said the company will be announcing more in the coming weeks. It’s focused on drought-stricken California for now but plans to expand to other Western states also dealing with severe water shortages.