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 the Scorecard seeks to determine how much they are doing to save our most precious resource – water.
The Texas Living Waters Project released the first Texas Water Conservation Scorecard in 2016, which evaluated a total of 305 water utilities across Texas. 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.
In the years since the Scorecard was first published, the Texas Living Waters Project has completed yearly partial interim updates to demonstrate how utilities are keeping up with some of the water conservation measures included in the original Scorecard. In 2019, however, most Texas utilities with 3,300 connections or more submitted their updated 5-year Water Conservation Plans, which calls for a complete update to the Scorecard. The newest release of the Texas Water Conservation Scorecard provides a complete update to all the criteria evaluated in the 2016 Scorecard and includes an additional 50 utilities due to increasing populations across the state.
And now, the Texas Living Waters Project is pleased to present the 2020 Texas Water Conservation Scorecard:
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 the 2020 Scorecard, a record 99 percent of the utilities submitted their Water Loss Audit reports (351 out of 356 utilities), however 30 percent of these reports were removed by the TWDB because of data discrepancies.
Since 2015, the number of utilities that did not submit Annual Water Loss Audits has drastically declined – 14 percent in 2015 compared to 1 percent in 2019. However, the number of reports that were not approved by TWDB due to data discrepancies has increased between 2015 and 2019. Because of this, the percent of successful submissions decreased from 78 percent in 2015 to 69 percent in 2019.
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.
Most 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 percentage of utilities submitting their Water Conservation Plans has slightly from 91 percent in 2015 to 93 percent in 2019. The total number of submitted Annual Reports, however, has stayed relatively the same – 82 percent of utilities evaluated submitted their Annual Reports in 2019 compared to 83 percent in 2015. Unfortunately, less than half (47 percent) of all Texas utilities have submitted a water conservation implementation report every year since the Scorecard began in 2016.
Water Conservation Plans and Annual Reports are important tools for measuring the effectiveness of water conservation programs across the state. In their 5-year WCPs, utilities define their baseline municipal water use, establish these 5- and 10-year water conservation targets, and identify best management practices for reducing water usage. Utilities then submit annual reports measuring their progress towards those conservation goals. It is crucial for Texas utilities to make a stronger effort to submit these required reports.
Utility scores have stayed relatively the same since 2015.
The 2020 Scorecard (herein referenced as 2019 data) recorded an equal number of increasing (39 percent) and decreasing (39 percent) scores compared to the 2016 Scorecard (herein referenced as 2015 data). For those utilities that saw a decrease, their score lowered by 9.6 points on average, while the average increase was 9.9 points. Additionally, 6 percent of utilities observed no change in their score between 2015 and 2019. The remaining 16 percent of utilities were added to the 2020 Scorecard, so a score comparison could not be made for these 56 utilities. In terms of average score, small utilities (with populations of less than 25,000) and medium/large-sized utilities (with populations greater than 25,000) saw minimal changes. For small utilities there was a 0.3 decrease (29.8 in 2015 compared to 29.5 in 2019) compared to a 0.3 increase for medium/large-sized (55.8 in 2015 compared to 56.1 in 2019).
Although strides in overall score have been minimal, Texas utilities have achieved year-over-year progress in two key areas: 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, E, H, I, M, N, and O since 2015. Of these, Regions B, E, and I saw the biggest increases, with average scores jumping 5 or more points. Alternatively, there has been an overall decrease in utility scores in regions A, C, D, F, G, J, K, and L. Of these, Regions J and L saw the biggest decreases, with average scores dropping by 5 or more points.
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 2019, percent water loss increased by an average of 2.7 percent statewide. This increase is the result of a combination of factors, such as more accurate reporting methods, deteriorating water infrastructure, unauthorized consumption, etc. Thirteen out of the 16 water planning regions in Texas saw an increase in percent water loss, except for Regions B and O in the Panhandle. The remaining Region P did not have sufficient data to make a comparison.
In terms of the average percent water loss based on utility size, small utilities (utilities serving a population of less than 25,000) saw a higher average percent water loss compared to medium/large utilities (those utilities serving a population greater than 25,000). Overall, medium and large utilities experienced an average 13.1 percent water loss in 2019, while small utilities (utilities serving a population of less than 25,000) had a slightly greater water loss percentage of 15.3 percent. Moreover, small utilities saw a higher percent change in water loss (2.9 percent) between 2015 and 2019 compared to medium/large utilities (1.9 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.
The is considerable fluctuation in the number of BMPs implemented by utilities year-over-year.
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 2019, the total number of implemented BMPs has increased an impressive 36 percent. The average number of BMPs implemented in 2019 was 7.5 (out of 26 available) for medium and large utilities, and 4 for small utilities.
Of the nearly 1,700 BMPs that utilities implemented in 2019, 57 percent were implemented by medium and large utilities and 43 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.
Between 2015 and 2019, the average number of implemented BMPs for all utilities has increased by approximately 1 BMP. According to utility size, medium/large utilities saw an average increase of 1.5 BMPs, while small utilities saw an average increase of less than 1 BMP.
On a regional basis, every region saw an increase in average number of BMPs implemented with the exception of Regions A, L, and N. Regions that saw the greatest increase in the average number of BMPs implemented include Regions J (4.5), B (2.8), and O (2.0).
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.