Articles

Southern California Watershed Authority to Deploy Conservation Tech

Dropcountr uses analytical tools to determine if there’s a water leak on a participating customer’s property.

by Richard K. De Atley, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. / September 11, 2015

(TNS) -- An app developer that provides information to homeowners about water use mobile devices and websites has been recommended as the vendor for a high-tech conservation program by the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.

The joint powers agency oversees a mountains-to-ocean district that includes territory in San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties.

When the program is finalized, Redwood City-based Dropcountr will combine its water-use analysis methods with data from OmniEarth, a geographic information system firm that can analyze properties via aerial photos to better assess water use, said Dropcountr founder Robb Barnitt.

Dropcountr, already in use by several water outfits in California, including Lake Arrowhead Community Services District, can use its analytical tools to determine if there’s a water leak on a participating customer’s property.

The additional data from aerial photos can show how much of a property is covered by lawn, drought-tolerant landscaping, or concrete such as patios and driveways.

All of that will lead to a much better analysis of water use than customer surveys and raw square footage property information from public records, Barnitt said.

Ultimate decisions on participation in the program is up to the 74 water retailers serving 58 cities that come under the umbrella of the Santa Ana Watershed Project.

The program and others are expected to be introduced in a series of technical meetings on drought conservation programs organized for water districts and retailers later this month, with a deadline for participants of Sept. 18.

Barnitt said the up-front work will help participating districts focus on water customers “where there’s a lot of potential for conservation.”

Barnitt pointedly avoids terms like “waste” or “over-use” in his discussions about conservation.

“We will be careful in terms of how we deliver that message,” Barnitt said. “There is not going to be any finger-pointing. But we can tell people, with a little bit of direction, they can be saving quite a bit of water and quite a bit of money.”

Barnitt said addressing customers who might need water use advice while moving past those who already show good conservation fits with what he said was one focus of the project – “to deliver the biggest bang for the buck.”

Celeste Cantú, general manager for the authority, said Thursday that water delivery systems have become so efficient that users “take it for granted. That is a great thing, but they have lost their water connection – people don’t know where it comes from and where it goes.

“Our grandparents knew, and we are trying to reconnect that relationship, via smartphones” that can tell them how much water they are using, and even whether they have a broken sprinkler, she said.

The $1.7 million effort is part of the authority’s $22 million emergency drought grant program to reduce water demand. The program is administered in conjunction with the Upper Santa Margarita Watershed.

Cantú said conservation efforts already taken have included the aerial photography of most of the watershed, excluding mountain areas where there is little in the way of irrigated landscape.

She said projects such as the aerial photography and the pending agreement with Dropcountr are economy-of-scale efforts to help member districts do conservation management they could not individually afford.

“It’s not a slam-dunk that all agencies are going to agree to participate, but we understand there is strong support” for the high-tech program, said Dropcountr’s Barnitt.

“The way it is being set up, SAWPA is trying to make it easy for individual agencies, and relieve them of almost all contracting obligations,” he said.

Dropcountr is “the successful competitive applicant, and their functionality is impressive,” Cantú said Thursday. “All approvals have been garnered, and I expect it to happen shortly,” she said of the final contract. “It is just a matter of executing it.”

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority covers the path of the Santa Ana River and a web of natural waterways from the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges to the Orange County coastline – 2,650 square miles.

It covers huge swaths of San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties and notches into east-southeast Los Angeles County.

©2015 The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.