West Bench water meter data

Update 21 Nov 2017: I have asked RDOS staff for water meter data for the summer of 2017.  I will add this as soon as I get it.  I am very interested to see whether paying a price for water changed water usage. Unfortunately, it is a bit of work for them to pull the meter data from our utilities billing software.

Update 24 Nov 2016: I have added a mock-billing feature to the dashboards.  You can see your monthly water cost under the four pricing scenarios.  Note that this is working for residential properties only at this point.

Update 25 Nov 2016: The mock billing feature is now working for meters designated "residential agricultural" as well.

Water meters were installed for all West Bench Water System properties during the 2014 water system upgrade. We have run the meters for a few cycles, tracked down many leaks and other problems, and now are in a position to use the meter data when billing for water use.

One of the most important reasons to meter water is to enable people to make informed decisions about their consumption.  The basic question is this: Is your use of a scarce and shared resource appropriate?  Some may argue that they need a certain amount of water to keep their landscaping looking good,  But that leads to the next question: Is your landscaping appropriate given your lot size and our climate?

Given that water is a scarce shared resource, the meaning of "appropriate" is unavoidably tied to the concept of fairness.  Your "fair share" of water is a function of both the overall amount of water available for consumption but also the consumption level of your neighbors.  If the lake level drops and does not recover, we are using too much water as a community--that is pretty obvious.  Recall the cautionary tale of Lake Mead:

But what if the lake level seems fine?  Why should you scale back?  Here is where fairness comes into play. If you are using significantly more water than your neighbors then their conservation is likely enabling your profligacy.

So how much water do my neighbors use?  Unfortunately our utilities billing system at the RDOS does not provide much functionality in this regard.  But I am curious so I hacked together a simple prototype system using open source data analytics tools.  It is not commercial grade software but West Bench residents can use the tool to visualize the water use over time in relation to that of their neighbors.

Accessing the Water Use Dashboard:

Water use data is confidential so we have some basic privacy safeguards.  To see your water data I ask you to do the following:

  1. If you already have an account on the Area F web site (this web site), login and click your name at the top right.  This will allow you to edit your user profile. If you do not have an account on this site, do the following:
    1.  Create an account . 
    2. Wait for your new account to be manually approved; you would be amazed by the number of spammers who apply for an account on this site.
    3. Login into your new account
  2. At the bottom of your user profile you are asked for two pieces of information.  They should be on your West Bench water bill:
    1. Your West Bench Water account number.  It is of the form 800-XXXXX-XXX. Note: the format is important. If you do not enter it as shown (3 digits-5 digits-3 digits with dashes in the correct spots) you will get an error when you try to access the dashboard.
    2. The last name of the first registered owner of the property as shown on your water bill. Note: spelling and punctuation matter. It this name does not match our records exactly you will get an error when you try to access the dashboard.
  3. Once you have entered these pieces of information you will not be asked for them again.  The reason we are doing it this way is because by supplying your account information you are providing explicit consent for us to show you your data to you.  Naturally your data is not shown to anyone else except in aggregate (e.g., as part of an average).
  4. Revisit/refresh this page, and click on the "Water Use Dashboard" hyperlink at the very bottom.
  5. Let me know if something goes wrong.  This is a prototype remember....

Reading the graphics:

Update 21 Nov 2016: Some minor modifications have been made to the interface based on feedback from residents.  The screen shots below no long look exactly like the tool.  But the basic functionality remains the same.

The top graphic shows your water use over time as blue bars.  To provide context, three lines describing the usage levels of your neighbors are superimposed:

  1. Heavy users (red line):  People with usage above this line are in the top 10% of water users.
  2. Median user (yellow line):  Half your neighbors use more than this amount; half use less.
  3. Light users (green line):  People with water usage below this line are in the bottom 10% of water users.

Note: the reference lines are based on your own rate class.  If your service is agricultural, the reference lines are calculated using agricultural users only.  Similarly, residential users are compared only to other residential users.

Property size:

People on the West Bench have differing amounts of property.  Some people think it is natural for folks with larger lots to use more water.  Others are not so sure: they question whether one household should use significantly more water than another household regardless of lot size.  Of course "working water" (farms, golf courses, and other productive uses of land) are a different story.

You have a choice when looking at your consumption data using this tool.  You can view it as average litres per day for your connection.  Or, you can view it as litres per day per m2.  This latter measure puts large and small lots on the same footing.

The monthly distribution

You can get more detailed information by clicking on a month (i.e., one of the blue bars).  This opens a histogram showing the overall distribution of water use within your rate class for the month and year in question.  Your usage is shown as a blue dot.  This level of detail allows you to see precisely where you stand in relation to your neighbors.  So for example, the image below shows the detailed breakdown for a resident in January, 2016.  The location of the blue dot shows that the resident consumed 823 litres per day on average in that month, which was clearly on the high side among other users in the rate class.

This is all still very experimental and a bit mickey-mouse.  But I think these kinds of visualization tools can provide useful information.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.