Grass Roots Effort Reaps Substantial Water Savings

Elster is now part of Honeywell

Elster is now part of Honeywell

Georgetown, Texas Curbs Water Waste with Alerts

At a glance

  • Multiple droughts during the past 10 years have prompted water utility managers for the City of Georgetown, Texas, to seek ways to curb consumption.
  • When the city replaced first-generation AMR fixed-network metering with a fixed-network AMI system, it also was able to fully roll out its existing water-saving service to the whole community. Called AquaMessenger, Georgetown’s program alerts consumers when their usage exceeds a customer-defined threshold.
  • Some 1,500 people are in the AquaMessenger program. Reductions have been as high as 9 percent. Coupled with the city’s long term water contracts, Georgetown has successfully deferred the need to obtain new capacity until the year 2040.

Drought in 2011 brought the State of Texas its driest year on record. This was the year newspapers coast-to-coast showed acre after acre of mud-cracked earth where shallow lakes had been.  And, just a few years earlier, a two year-drought had left water supplies so depleted, the municipal water and electricity provider for Georgetown, Texas, was already looking at implementing its drought contingency plans.

Although watering restrictions often accompany such plans, the managers for Georgetown Utility Systems hoped to first curtail unnecessary water use within the community. In an effort to bring minimal disruption to customers, the utility sought ways to promote curtailment.

Tiered rates, which the city uses to promote conservation, are one water-saving tool the utility employs. Beginning in 2008, utility managers decided to pilot a high-usage alert system to see what impact feedback might have on consumption patterns.

Results were promising after 205 households were chosen to test “AquaMessenger,” a program through which customers sign up to receive an alert if their consumption threatens to move beyond a specific threshold. These households were chosen based on their consumption patterns – both high and low – as well as their proximity to each other. At the time of the pilot, Georgetown had a first generation fixed-network AMR and a drive-by metering system.  AquaMessenger was only available to the 75 percent of customers on the fixed-net system.

Still, the program was so successful in getting people to curb consumption that the utility sought to expand it. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) provided the opportunity to expand the service to 100 percent of the customer base.

Solution: Community outreach and AMI fuel conservation effort
Georgetown now offers AquaMessenger for customers within their city limits. This program was facilitated by deployment of Elster EnergyAxis AMI for electric and water services, as the new system provided the ability to run daily consumption reports on individual residences. In conjunction with its meter-data management system, the utility also can now present data via a customer portal that gives people an hour-by-hour look at their consumption patterns.

“With access to the AMI interval data, customers can see the water usage spike at 2 a.m. when those sprinklers go off,” says Leticia Zavala, customer care manager for the utility. “Now, people know when they hit a certain level, so they can go turn off the sprinklers and save a lot of money.

Utility managers took a grass roots approach to promoting its AquaMessenger and portal programs. “We don’t have the resources to do mass mailings or a concerted marketing effort,” says Zavala. “We have to rely on some unique ideas to get the message out there.”

Utility staff also had an infrastructure limitation. While the initial AMI deployment is done, there still are households without AMI because the utility recently acquired additional service territory and customers where the existing metering system does not provide interval data.

That’s why utility Customer Care staff targeted their promotion carefully and used grass-roots campaigning to get the word out in the right areas. First, the team targeted customers who live in Sun City, a local housing development for people aged 55 and up. “We knew these consumers were very involved in their community and interested in things like conservation,” Zavala adds. The community also has automatic sprinkler systems at most home sites, and some two thirds of Georgetown’s water consumption goes to irrigation systems.

To reach Sun City residents, Georgetown Utilities attended community meetings and partnered with the development’s “water ambassadors,” who are volunteers that help educate their neighbors about conservation.

In addition, utility Customer Care staff also targeted another group likely to be interested in conservation: those with high-bill complaints. Customer service representatives promote the program whenever a concerned customer calls.

Benefit: Consumer engagement and resource management
To date, some 1,500 households are enrolled in the AquaMessenger program, which sent out 10,546 email Aqua Alerts in 2014. “In 2015 there has been a 23.4 percent decrease in the average water consumption by AquaMessenger participants over the prior year,” Zavala says. “The decrease is attributed partially to the Aqua Alerts, but also to other variables such as rainfall and temperature.”

To put a dollar value on the potential savings if all customers were enrolled in AquaMessenger, utility staff calculated the cost of deferred capital expense based on savings from the initial pilot, in which participants decreased water consumption by some 9 percent. Based on peak demand of 24.5 million gallons per day (MGD), that demand reduction translates to 2.2 MGD. Utility staff estimated the debt service on a 2.2 MGD expansion at approximately $161,000 per year and considered that amount to be the potential savings the utility could realize with an ongoing 9 percent reduction in water use.

Deferred capital expenditures proved to be a significant benefit of Georgetown’s AMI system. “There’s no cheaper water than the water you save,” says Zavala. “We will need to go out and get more water resources in the future but, with the programs we’ve put in place, we now forecast that we’ll be OK until 2040.”

“Everyone who has a high-bill complaint loves this program. It educates them. Most didn’t realize how much water they were using.”
Leticia Zavala, CGFO, Customer Care Manager

 

“My relatives were astonished that a utility would notice or even care that my line was gulping water.”
Rev. Donald C. Guerrant, Georgetown customer notified of leak while visiting out-of-town family


About the Deployment

Ownership:
City of Georgetown, Texas

Installation:
May 2008 – Sept. 2013
New deployment underway in expanded territory  (8,000 water meters)

Infrastructure:
24.000 residential and commercial electric meters
32,000 water meters (24,000 interval  8,000 monthly)
Elster 900 MHz communications network

Key applications:
Monthly meter reads with hourly interval data
Daily data viewable via customer portal

Integrations:
ElectSolve MDMS
Customer portal

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