3 tools to help track business water usage

Earlier this year, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and asked Californians to reduce water use by 20 percent. The state is in the third year of what is "perhaps the worst drought that California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago."

Since then, things have gotten only more serious. Lawmakers recently approved an unprecedented three-bill package regulating groundwater for the first time in the state's history. Meanwhile, wells in Central California are running dry, and 82 percent of the state is classified as being in "extreme or exceptional draught," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Despite all this, statewide water consumption is actually up 1 percent over the past year, possibly due to hotter temperatures and an optimistic belief that we're on the brink of an El Niño-like rainy season.

There's only so much individual residents can do to conserve water, as the majority of water usage comes from businesses. While enterprises can afford elaborate water efficiency plans, tracking water consumption is trickier for resource-strapped small and mid-size companies.

However, apps and web services can help. Whether you're a small-business owner, facility manager or just the environmentally minded employee charged with spearheading the organization's conservation efforts, these three tools are built to track and analyze water usage and mitigate the impact that water scarcity can have on your business.

Dropcountr

How much water does your business use on a daily basis? Chances are you have no idea, and you're not alone — most utility companies send out monthly statements with water consumption data that's up to three months old. While this can be useful for tracking annual usage, it's not at all practical if you're trying to modify your water intake more frequently.

Enter Dropcountr, a free, consumer-based iOS and web app that hooks into your water utility's database and tracks your usage in real-time. The idea behind Dropcountr is simple: In order to conserve water, we first have to know exactly how much of it we're using and whether that amount is appropriate for our household or business.

The app displays daily, weekly, monthly or yearly water consumption in easy-to-read graphs. It also sends you push notifications and email alerts if it notices an abnormal usage trend (a leak), or if you're nearing your monthly water budget. Think of it as a cell phone data monitoring app, but for water.

Dropcountr also can help you save water and money by suggesting more efficient appliances and alerting you about utility rebates. And detailed analytics reveal how much water you use compared to your neighbors — in this case "neighbors" being households or businesses of similar size in your area.

Dropcountr just launched and has a couple of restrictions that limit its usefulness. First, it's currently only available for property owners; Dropcountr is talking to property management companies about extending the app to renters in the future. Second, it's only available in two California cities: Folsom (Folsom Water Department) and Los Altos Hills (Purissima Hills Water District). However, the app does include a "utility poke" feature that lets you email your local water district, asking them to share their data with the service.

As an incentive for utilities to participate, Dropcountr offers comprehensive reverse analytics so utilities can better manage their resources (for example, by monitoring users who overuse water and rewarding users who are frugal). According to the company, utilities only need to have meters — not smart meters — to work with Dropcountr.

MeterHero

While you're waiting for your local utilities to get on board with Dropcountr, MeterHero can help you track and manage your water (and electricity and gas) usage manually. This free meter-tracking tool lets you skip past utility involvement and go straight to usage analysis — all you need is access to your building's meters and a couple of old utility bills.

The service is free for up to three meters ($10/month gives you unlimited tracking). To get started, you upload data from an old utility bill as a baseline reading (you can upload as many back-readings as you want for accuracy). Then, just upload meter readings as you take them. If you're not sure how to read your meter, you can upload a photo and MeterHero will help you figure it out. MeterHero is designed to work globally, so the service lets you choose units based on your location (gallons versus cubic meters).

MeterHero lets users share their data in small circles and help each other figure out how to save money, according to H2Oscore founder McGee Young. "We've found that collaboration is much more effective than competition," Young said. MeterHero does track savings over time, though, so you can see if your conservation efforts are effective.

Obviously, MeterHero isn't as accurate as a service that plugs directly into a utility's database, so diligent meter readings are critical. That said, Young has confirmed that the company is working to integrate with utilities for real-time data. Later this month, MeterHero plans to launch a water offset marketplace, which will let people take their water savings and sell them to people who want to offset their water use.

MeterHero is still in beta and currently a web-only service, although the company plans to release a mobile app in the future.

Water Risk Monetizer

Not sure how water scarcity could affect your business in the future? The Water Risk Monetizer, a free financial modeling tool created by Ecolab and Trucost, can help you see just how important access to clean water is for your business.

This secure web tool has you input details about your business' facilities, including location, water usage over a set time period (weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually), current water price and projected water use over the next three years.

The tool then uses algorithms based on water scarcity studies and in-stream water values to determine a "water risk premium" — a number that indicates how much value your business should be placing on water (based on future scarcity).

For example, in high-risk areas such as Southern California the "water risk premium" of a business projected to increase water usage by 10 percent over the next three years is nearly as high as the water bill itself — indicating such a business should consider water to be nearly twice as valuable as what they're paying for it. This tool may help you assess the risk of future water scarcity and also help to figure out where you need to start conserving water to mitigate that risk.

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