WATER CONSERVATION IS A BIG DEAL IN TEXAS.
HOW DID YOUR UTILITY SCORE?
Texas has some of the most progressive water conservation laws and policies in the United States yet water conservation implementation is local and initiatives are constantly evolving. For this reason it can be difficult to assess whether conservation efforts are continuing to advance statewide. In order to help keep track of this progress, the Texas Living Water Project developed the Texas Water Conservation Scorecard. The Scorecard explores one fundamental question: Are municipal water suppliers making their best effort to reduce per capita water use and in turn save water and money for Texans? By assessing all Texas utilities with over 3,300 connections (305 in total) the Scorecard seeks to determine how much they are doing to save our most precious resource – water.
The Texas Living Waters Project released Texas’ first Comprehensive Scorecard in 2016. The Scorecard offers a snapshot of water conservation efforts in Texas using a variety of sources, including 5-year water conservation plans, annual water conservation implementation reports, annual water loss audits, utility websites, interviews, and other publicly accessible information. Utility scores reflect a range of metrics depending on the size of the utility - large and medium utilities receive up to 100 points total based on 10 questions, while small utilities receive up to 55 points total based on 6 questions. A significant portion of a utility’s rating in the Scorecard depends upon information provided by that utility. If a utility failed to submit data to State water officials or if the information was incomplete, a utility may not have received points on one or more of our evaluation criteria.
Since 2016, the Texas Living Waters Project has completed yearly partial interim updates of the Scorecard to demonstrate how utilities are keeping up with some of the water conservation measures included in the original Scorecard. These Scorecard updates feature four questions that utilities answer every year in state-required reporting. The next Comprehensive Scorecard, to be released in 2020, will evaluate all of the original 10 questions and utilize the same publicly available information as the original Scorecard - including updated 2019 Water Conservation Plans.
And now, the Texas Living Waters Project is pleased to present the the 2018 Interim Update of the Texas Water Conservation Scorecard:
WATER CONSERVATION IN TEXAS, 2018
WHAT DID WE FIND?
Utility scores have declined since 2015 but there’s a silver lining.
While scores have decreased overall, this is not inherently a bad thing. The 2018 interim update reflects two major improvements: more utilities are submitting their required reporting to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) and the accuracy of that reporting is generally improving. The greatest variability in year-to-year scores can be linked to water loss and reporting: whether utilities successfully submitted their Annual Water Loss Audit and if so, whether their percent water loss increased or decreased. Over time, however, we predict overall scores will increase as reporting methods become more standardized.
Not submitting a Water Loss Audit (or having it removed by the TWDB) and fluctuations in water losses are the biggest factors contributing to changes in conservation scores (either positively or negatively). This trend is also true across water planning regions.
In terms of planning regions, there has been an overall increase in utility scores in regions B, K, I , and O since 2015. In Region O in particular, all five utilities increased their scores. Conversely, there has been an overall decrease in utility scores in regions A, C, D, and F.
Water Loss Reporting
More Utilities are submitting their annual water loss reports but more reports are also being rejected.
Water Loss Audits are a state requirement for many utilities (i.e. retail utilities, those with over 3,300 connections). These reports provide information on how much water moves through utility infrastructure and quantifies how much is lost. In 2018, a record 65 percent of the utilities submitted their Water Loss Audit reports (198 out of 305 utilities), however 29 percent of these reports were removed by the TWDB because of data discrepancies.
Since 2015, the number of utilities that have submitted their annual Water Loss Audits has increased, however, more of these reports have been rejected by the TWDB because of data discrepancies. Because of this, successful submissions decreased from 238 in 2015 to 198 in 2018.
The TWDB has ramped up its screening of potential data issues in water loss reporting over the past couple of years. This, along with new legislation requiring water loss reports to be completed by a trained individual, are both crucial steps to encourage and maintain a stronger standard for data reporting. We are hopeful that these efforts will lead to fewer rejected reports, which will translate to higher scores in future scorecard updates.
Overall Percent Water Loss
Water loss in Texas has increased since 2015 but not dramatically.
The percentage of water lost from distribution systems provides the utilities with a baseline from which to monitor and improve water loss control. In 2018, there was an overall increase in percent water loss as a result of a combination of factors, such as more accurate reporting methods, deteriorating water infrastructure, unauthorized consumption, etc. These trends were true throughout Texas, regardless of utility size or water planning region (except Regions B & O in the Panhandle).
Looking at water loss based on water planning regions reveals that 12 out of the 16 water planning regions saw an increase in percent water loss between 2015 and 2018. Regions B (north central Texas) and O (southern high plains) were the only regions to observe a decrease in percent water loss. The remaining regions, Regions P (Jackson and Lavaca counties) and E (Far West Texas), did not have sufficient data to make a comparison.
In terms of the average percent water loss based on utility size, medium and large utilities (those utilities serving a population greater than 25,000) experienced an average 13.5 percent water loss while small utilities (utilities serving a population of less than 25,000) had a slightly greater water loss percentage of 16.6 percent.
Reducing water loss should be of top concern for Texas utilities. Advanced metering infrastructure and waterline replacement programs can help utilities get a better handle on the amount of water they are losing throughout their system. The TWDB offers several funding mechanisms, including SWIFT loans, to assist utilities in covering the costs of these projects.
Water Conservation Reporting
A majority of utilities are submitting their conservation reports but many lack consistency.
All Texas utilities with over 3,300 connections are required to submit Water Conservation Plans once every five years and to report annually on the progress of their water conservation programs. Overall, the total number of submitted Annual Reports has stayed relatively the same since the Scorecard began – 81 percent (246 of 305) of utilities evaluated submitted their Annual Reports in 2018 compared to 83 percent (253 of 305) in 2015. Unfortunately, barely half of all Texas utilities have submitted a water conservation implementation report every year since the Scorecard began in 2015.
When we evaluated the consistency with which utilities submitted Annual Reports over the past four years, we found apparent differences across each of the 16 water planning regions. While more than half of the utilities in most of the state’s eastern and southern regions submitted their Annual Reports every year for the past four years, utilities in the northern and western regions of the state submitted their Annual Reports much less consistently. Statewide, approximately only half of all utilities submitted their water conservation implementation reports every year for the past four years.
Annual Reports are an important tool for measuring the effectiveness of water conservation programs across the state and these reports help to lay the groundwork for the five-year Water Conservation Plan. It’s crucial for Texas utilities to make a stronger effort to submit these required reports.
Number of Conservation Best Management Practices (BMP) Implemented
Utilities are implementing effective conservation strategies and at greater rates.
Water Conservation Best Management Practices, or BMPs, are a “menu” of water conservation strategies recommended by the TWDB to help utilities build stronger water conservation programs. Between 2015 and 2018, the total number of implemented BMPs has increased an impressive 24 percent. The average number of BMPs implemented in 2018 was 8 (out of 26 available) for medium and large utilities, and 5 for small utilities.
Of the nearly 1,500 BMPs that utilities implemented in 2018, 55 percent were implemented by medium and large utilities and 45 percent by small utilities. Because medium and large utilities have greater resources and staff to offer more comprehensive water conservation programs, this is not surprising.
On a regional basis, every region saw an increase in the total number of BMPs implemented with the exception of Regions L and N. Regions that saw the greatest increase in the number of BMPs implemented include Regions C (85), G (42), H (31), and I (33).
The TWDB is currently working on revising and adding to its list of recommended BMPs. Looking ahead, we anticipate the total number of implemented BMPs will continue to increase, but the first step will require utilities to be more diligent in updating and submitting their yearly conservation reports.