NEW REPORTS: The Sustainable Water Management Profile; Use and effectiveness of municipal water restrictions during drought study; Surface water use and groundwater availability during drought in the Sierra foothills

The Sustainable Water Management Profile: An assessment tool to advance water supply sustainability

Sustainable water management means using water in a way that meets current, ecological, social, and economic needs without compromising the ability to meet those needs in the future. It requires water managers to look beyond jurisdictional boundaries and their immediate supply operations, managing water collaboratively while seeking resilient regional solutions that minimize risks.

In 2012, the Water Foundation and its partners, including The Bay Institute, Environmental Science Associates, and Sonoma Ecology Center set out to create a tool – called the Sustainable Water Management (SWM) Profile – that helps water agencies measure water stress conditions on the ground and assess their progress towards sustainable water management by evaluating their management responses to these conditions. The group focused on developing a tool that can aid public utilities, residential and business customers, land use planning agencies, financial analysts, and state and federal agencies. Each of these stakeholders plays an important role ensuring sound water management, and the SWM Profile seeks to incentivize these stakeholders to work together to sustainably manage the waters of a region.

To develop and test the SWM Profile, the group:

  • convened a team of experts to develop the tool, supported by an advisory committee;
  • launched a pilot project in 2014 with Sonoma County Water Agency to develop and test the first version of the tool;
  • used lessons from the pilot to engage a wide variety of stakeholders, including representatives from water agencies, the business and financial sector, state and federal government, NGOs, and academia, to get feedback and make improvements and resulting in a second version of the tool; and
  • with the revised tool, launched a second pilot project in 2016 with Inland Empire Utilities Agency.

The resulting tool examines the water supplies an agency directly or indirectly relies upon. Using simple metrics, the SWM Profile identifies the vulnerability of water systems to key stressors (also known as risks or threats) in the areas of environment, supply, demand, and finance.

Based on this analysis, the SWM Profile then evaluates management responses to these stressors by the water agency and the broader region. Utilizing an objective points-based system, the SWM Profile determines where an agency and its surrounding region currently stand on the path to sustainability. The water supply agency and its region are assigned one of five ratings based on points earned for management responses to stressors. Ratings include: not rated, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.

Click here to download the white paper and associated pilot studies.

Alliance for Water Efficiency Releases Major New Research Study on Drought Response and Water Demands

Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Irrigation Restrictions During Drought study

Today the Alliance for Water Efficiency released a major new research study on municipal drought response and water demand. The Use and Effectiveness of Municipal Irrigation Restrictions During Drought study explores how drought response measures have been implemented and how water demand reductions have been achieved across different water suppliers in different states.

“The results confirm the effectiveness and importance of irrigation restrictions during a drought,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “The research shows that when necessary and with proper implementation, substantial demand reductions can be achieved by communities working together during a drought.”

Key findings from the study include:

  • Case study participants in California and Texas successfully reduced annual demand by 18-30 percent and peak monthly demand by 20-42 percent through a combination of mandatory demand management measures.
  • Within this study, voluntary conservation did not generate statistically significant savings (i.e., estimated savings are indistinguishable from zero).
  • Messaging and enforcement are viewed as best practices and essential components of a successful drought response.
  • Water Shortage Contingency Plans should include all of these components: messaging, enforcement, irrigation day-of-week and/or time-of-day restrictions, drought surcharges, and implementation strategies.
  • To be effective, Water Shortage Contingency Plans need codified rulemaking to include provisions that are enforceable on non-compliant customers.

“There are many substantive findings in this report that water utilities will want to learn,” said Dickinson. “This is the largest study to date of municipal drought response in America in terms of scope and breadth.”

Learn more and download the Executive Summary here. While the Executive Summary is available to the public, AWE members have access to the full report.

This two-year research study was conducted by Anil Bamezai, PhD of Western Policy Research along with Lisa Maddaus and her team at Maddaus Water Management, Inc. AWE sponsored this study with financial support from the participating water utilities. Peter Mayer of Water Demand Management developed the original research concept and served as AWE’s project manager for the study.

This research is part of AWE’s Outdoor Water Savings research initiative which has produced several major research reports:

Phase 1 Review of Existing Research (2014)
Peak Demand Reduction Study (2017)
Landscape Transformation Study (2019)
Drought Restrictions Study (2020)

Effects of Surface-Water Use on Domestic Groundwater Availability and Quality During Drought in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, California

Approximately 2 million California residents rely on privately owned domestic wells for drinking water. During the California drought of 2012−16 groundwater levels declined in many parts of the state and wells were deepened in response. Most of the wells deepened during this time were domestic wells that were drilled into fractured bedrock throughout the Sierra Nevada foothills region of northern California.

To understand the impacts of extreme drought on groundwater supply availability and quality in this setting, the United States Geological Survey completed a geochemical survey of domestic wells throughout the Yuba and Bear River watersheds during 2015–16 as part of the State Water Board’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program Priority Basin Project (GAMA-PBP).

This fact sheet highlights key findings from the GAMA-PBP assessment.
Click here to download the report.



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