Government offices and businesses in Charlotte, N.C., are using data-gathering technology to get smarter about water consumption in the city’s central business district.

Spearheaded by Envision Charlotte — a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability — the city of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and various companies have partnered to launch Smart Water Now, a water measurement and efficiency program.

Water usage statistics from the buildings involved in the effort will be aggregated and made viewable in real time through kiosks available in each location or via the Web. The goal of the program is to increase awareness of water use among building occupants and encourage actions to lower consumption and promote conservation.

Robert Phocas, energy and sustainability manager with Charlotte, said the city went through a drought a few years ago, which “woke up” the community to the stresses individuals place on the Catawba River. The river serves as Charlotte’s primary source of water.

“Charlotte is one of the fastest growing regions in the country … and we have already been looking at what the impact is going to be on our water demand and start planning as to how we can meet our water needs with what we have available,” Phocas said. “And water conservation is going to be a big part of that.”

The Smart Water Now program follows on the heels of Smart Energy Now, a similar initiative from Envision Charlotte that focused on energy use in the same area of Charlotte. The kiosks used in the energy program will be reused for the water initiative. Officials expect Smart Water Now to formally go online later this fall.

Approximately 65 buildings spanning 22 million square feet of Charlotte’s central business district will take part in the Smart Water Now effort. Acceptance into the project requires a building to be commercial, located in the district and be more than 10,000 square feet in size.

Tom Shircliff, chairman of Envision Charlotte, said of those buildings that meet the requirements, 98 percent have signed up for Smart Water Now. He was confident that by taking a submarket approach, instead of trying to include larger areas, the organization would be more successful in achieving the goal of reducing water use in the district by 20 percent over a five-year period.

“We are using awareness and behavior to tap into an almost totally unutilized area,” Shircliff said. “It is giving people who want to get involved and contribute a chance to do that.”

Sustainable Foundation

A number of private companies are providing the technology to make Smart Water Now a reality. Itron is providing the communication modules, network infrastructure, cloud services and data aggregation, while Verizon will gather the water usage data from a network of machine-to-machine devices. Verizon also will send the information to the kiosks using its wireless network.

CH2M Hill is handling overall project management, and Siemens is providing technical support. According Shircliff, the vendors are providing all the equipment and services for free. From a local government perspective, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department (CMUD), which provides both drinking water and wastewater services, will be vital to the project’s success.

The vendors are currently working with CMUD to attach smart devices to the water meters of all the participating buildings to get a baseline water consumption number. Once that baseline figure is established and the associated infrastructure is in place, the program can begin.

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Once the program begins, anyone can walk into one of the buildings involved with Smart Water Now and view the aggregated statistics for all the participants. Building owners can choose whether to display their individual building’s water use or show just the compiled numbers.

Phocas said Charlotte’s old city hall and government center buildings will be fully transparent with the statistics, providing the readings from both its buildings.

“Eventually, we’d like to do a comparison between the two buildings or potentially a competition between [them],” Phocas said. “We just haven’t had the time to do that yet.”

Shircliff added that giving building owners the option to display their individual statistics helped foster more participation. He said Envision Charlotte wanted to be clear from the beginning that the Smart Water Now initiative was not about exposing those buildings that aren’t as efficient.

“This is truly a public-private community effort that we want to get the whole [consumption] number and not shame, but rather inspire each other to drive the total down,” Shircliff said.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.