Texas has received high marks for our state’s laws and policies on water conservation. That positive recognition is deserved even though there is more the Lone Star State could do to advance conservation. But the real question is what’s happening “on the ground?” Are water utilities meeting the State’s legal requirements on conservation? Are these “municipal” water suppliers making their best efforts to reduce per capita water use, and thus save water and money for Texans?
Those are the questions we at the Texas Living Waters Project have attempted to answer with this Texas Water Conservation Scorecard. We have reviewed over 300 water utilities in Texas to assess how much they are doing to save our most precious resource – water.
An Overview: Interim Updates and the next full Scorecard
The original version of the scorecard was released in 2016. In addition to the original scorecard, this website now features partial interim yearly updates*. While the partial interim Scorecard updates are helpful in determining how a utility is or isn’t meeting its goals, the most comprehensive source of a utility’s conservation effort is the Water Conservation Plan. The Plan is due every five years with the last Plan being submitted in 2014, a few questions from the original scorecard were based on information from the last Plan. The next round of Water Conservation Plans are due May 1st, 2019. Texas utilities should be planning now to meet the current and future needs of their residents. We recommend they do so by sending a strong conservation pricing signal through rates, as well as by implementing a no-more-than-twice-per-week outdoor watering schedule. The next full scorecard will be released in 2020 and will include data from the 2019 Plan along with yearly reports.
* Note: Scores and points displayed are based on reports submitted last year to the Texas Water Development Board. For example, 2018 scores used data from reports submitted in 2017. The 2017 scores used data from reports submitted in 2016, and so on.
Updated Data Findings
The full Texas Water Conservation Scorecard was released in 2016 and included 10 questions for large and medium utilities and six for small utilities. We have included partial interim updates in the Scorecard to demonstrate how utilities are keeping up with some of the water conservation measures featured in the original full Scorecard. The most recent data submitted last year has been included on this site as interim updates and features only four questions (see below) that utilities answer every year in the required reports, Water Loss Audit and Annual Report.
Updated Data Summaries
With fewer utilities turning in required reports since the original full Scorecard was released in 2016, it is even more important for utilities to engage their customers in how they set their water conservation goals going forward. In fact, more and more data have been removed due to inconsistencies since the release of the Scorecard, meaning that utilities need to take a closer look at how their data are being reported.
One way in which a water utility can prioritize water conservation efforts is to set goals that require them to look for various water conservation strategies throughout their operations and services. Utilities setting appropriate water reduction goals is an important way to understand what conservation strategies need to be implemented to realize actual water savings. With the Water Conservation Plan due next year, this should be a current priority for utilities. The Water Conservation Implementation Task Force released a report that serves as a good resource for utilities that want to set goals that will have an impact on extending their water supplies. The report includes a detailed description of actions that could be taken by municipal water suppliers, agricultural producers, and industries to achieve conservation. The Task Force recommended that when entities set targets and goals for their required Water Conservation Plans, they should consider “[a] minimum annual reduction of one percent in total GPCD (gallons per capita per day) based on a five-year rolling average, until the entity achieves a total GPCD of 140* or less.”
*Note: a minority report included with the Task Force report recommends a total GPCD of 125.
In the original Scorecard, our findings saw that 90% of utilities submitted their Plan to the the Board; however, these plans vary widely in quality, detail, and public accessibility from utility to utility. With the passage of HB 1648 in the Texas Legislature, soon utilities that are required by the state to develop water conservation plans will also be required to designate a Water Conservation Coordinator to oversee and coordinate the utility’s water conservation efforts. If a utility prioritizes the designation or creation of this new position, having one point of contact for everything water conservation-related would greatly streamline data gathering and submissions. The Coordinator would ensure that reports and plans required by the state are completed and filed on time, and would also improve the quality and consistency of the utility’s water conservation plans. This person could also monitor and provide summaries (internally and externally) of their plans, progress reports, and water loss audits to their customers directly as well as online.
As a utility, are you undergoing a comprehensive education and stakeholder process to inform residents of your water supply future and options? In reality, many utilities are not and this is an area where customer engagement is crucial. Water conservation planning should include the voices of people that will be paying the bill, so to speak, for the strategies included in their utility’s Water Conservation Plan.
The full Scorecard looks at aspects of planning that directly impact communities, such as water rates, water loss, and rate of water reduction, that can defer expensive supply projects that could increase customer’s bills. For this current cycle of water conservation planning, communities across Texas should ask their utility, “How are you planning for my and my children’s water futures?” Are water utilities across Texas reaching out to the communities they serve when preparing the 2019 Water Conservation Plan?
When it comes to percent water loss, we have seen an increase from the original Scorecard to the most recent. Utilities will now have more access to water loss control training and education by the Texas Water Development Board. Recent legislation now requires that utilities serving more than 3,300 connections attend a water loss control training with the Board. While the Board already provides this service to utilities, they are now in the process of planning how to reach all utilities through a more expanded training. Be on the lookout for training opportunities in your area or online.
Scores/ Points Color Legend:
Answers will be designated as follows: