Where Can We Get The Water? Breaking Down California’s Crisis
California’s water shortage crisis is being discussed and addressed on a number of fronts.
Before bringing solutions, it’s important to understand where lays the greatest potential for bringing more available water into California’s water systems.
“There are basically two options to create more water availability – increase supply or reduce demand,” explains Ayyeka’s VP of Business Development, Sivan Cohen. The first option, increasing water supply, can be done through bringing in additional water, desalination or reducing water loss along the conveyance system. Overall supply is limited, and there are downsides to desalination which include the costly and lengthy process of building desalination plants.
They are also very costly to operate and maintain, and if the demand for desalinated water drops, the initial investment may not be reimbursed. Add to this the environmental impact, and it is clear that desalination should not necessarily be the first option considered.
There is a lot already being done on the front of altering demand for water, particularly on the residential consumer front. Even with raising awareness installing water efficient appliances in homes, offering government incentive programs, and so on, the potential for water savings on the residential demand side are actually quite limited. “Only 14% of the water supply goes to residential consumers, with the vast majority, 80% going to agricultural use, and 6% to industry,” explains Cohen. “Even if the statewide goal of lowering residential demand by 25% is achieved, this still only means a 3.5% increase in the overall water supply.”
Reducing NRW losses
Which brings us to the third major stop on the side of water supply – Non-Revenue Water or NRW. NRW is the water that is “lost” anywhere along its journey through the utility’s pipes before the point at which it reaches the consumer. The causes for this loss are both physical losses (water leaks) and what is called “apparent losses” – water that is lost through theft or inaccurate measurement. But NRW is often a “mystery.” Even the definition of NRW is subject to disagreement, with some including stolen water in its calculation, while others do not.
So how much water is really lost in the California water systems, and how can we minimize the loss?
“The truth is we don’t know the level of California’s NRW,” says Cohen. Data collection and reporting field reporting of NRW is partial at best, as a recent UCLA study detailed. “But we can make some safe estimates,” says Ayyeka CEO Ariel Stern. The world’s most advanced countries in water measurement and management, Israel and Australia, report around 10-15% NRW. Water experts target 10% as the lowest realistically achievable level.”
The world average is around 30%, with underdeveloped nations, such as some African nations, showing even 80-90% loss. So most likely California is in the realm of the international average, or around 20-40%.
So, assuming that California has 20% NRW, if through improvement, measurement and management we could cut that in half we would save 10% of the state’s water supply. This is about three times as much as the 3.5% total savings that Calfornia is striving to achieve through lowering demand.
How can NRW be lowered?
The key to addressing NRW is measurement – and this is where Ayyeka comes in. The company’s remote monitoring kits make monitoring simple, secure and affordable. According to Stern, the company’s solution is already in use in Israel to determine the amounts of water supplied to municipal areas. “Setting up district metering areas (DMAs) with flow meters to monitor the inflow to the zoned area, enables data collection about the supplied water and enables the creation of a unified, credible and continuous database of information on which to base NRW calculations,” he says.
In California too, effective measurement requires dividing up the large and complex water systems into distinct DMAs. Regulation will need to be implemented to ensure utilities provide accurate, reliable data on their NRW. Senate Bill 555, introduced by state Senator Lois Wolk (D-3rd District), would require this.
“California doesn’t have time to waste,” concludes Cohen. “The state needs to increase its available water, quickly. The fastest, most effective way to do this is to lower NRW, and data collection is the key first step.”