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The EFM Notebook

A Commentary on What’s New and Newsworthy

by Susan Holloway | Bio

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What is the Best Way to Conserve Water?

8 Aug 2022 2:41 PM | Deleted user
  Fire crews in Mariposa Grove during the Washburn Fire 

Source: Sarah Platt, National Park Service

As you are certainly aware, California has been experiencing a drought. The first three months of this year were the driest we've had in 100 years. Add record heat to the equation, and the result is emergency drought conditions for all 58 counties in California. 

The risk of wildfires is also extremely high. The Washburn Fire came perilously close to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees in Yosemite this July but was ultimately contained without the loss of any of the 500 sequoias. The McKinney fire continues to rage in Northern California, killing four people and clogging the Klamath River with soil and debris.

Overall, the state has fallen far short of Governor Newsom's goal from last year of a 15% decrease in water use. Conservation efforts picked up in June, with the statewide savings at 7.6% over the baseline year of 2020. So far, the Bay Area is conserving far more than other parts of the state, particularly Southern California. Not to brag, but Marin is among the top conservers, having reduced water use by 25.3%. 

Marin residents lead the state in indoor water conservation


Marin is doing relatively OK in terms of reservoir capacity, thanks to the rainfall we had this spring. The seven reservoirs that provide most of Marin's water are at 81% of capacity, a big improvement over last year at this time, when they were at 40%.

Despite some bright spots, the severity of these problems can feel overwhelming, and sometimes it's hard to believe that any individual's effort to save water is worth a hill of beans. We clearly need proactive political leadership and systemic change with respect to water conservation as well as to climate change in general. To that end, the Marin Municipal Water District has implemented a number of strategies for bolstering our supply

But when the situation is as dire as ours, individuals and communities need to organize in order to preserve and protect the environment as well as our own health, safety, and comfort.

What Can You Do?

I imagine that you know the actions needed to conserve water in daily life. It all comes down to one basic idea: Try not to use it! So that means take short showers, flush the toilet sparingly, don't use the dishwasher or washing machine until it is full, cover your swimming pool if you have one, water outdoor sparingly, let your lawn go brown, and so on.

BUT there is a big difference between knowing what you should do and then actually doing it...consistently. The novelty of collecting the cold water that emerges from the shower while you are waiting for the hot stuff and then using it to water your houseplants probably wore off during the first month of the first year of the drought. So how do we keep ourselves going?

I want to tout the benefits of getting a gadget, one that will provide specific information about how much water your household is using, and that will let you know how much you have reduced your consumption relative to previous periods. So, information and motivation!

Before you stop reading let me assure you that I am not a gadget aficionado. For instance, I am OK with Google Maps but mainly because I have set the instructions to be delivered in a delightful Irish brogue. But there really are user-friendly tools that provide extremely useful information for water conservation. Say hello to my little friend, the Flume Smart Water Home Monitor.

What is a Flume Smart Home Water Monitor?

  Some amount of bathing is really not a problem  

Feline leak monitoring

This monitor allows you to track how much water you are using minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day etc. It also provides details on how much water you are using from various sources like the dishwasher, shower, or outdoors. For me, it was revelatory to get a sense of what my biggest water-using activities were, and it can provide useful ammo if a family member seems to be, for example, taking frequent baths or overly long showers.  

Another great feature of the Flume monitor is that you can compare how much water you used yesterday, for example, with how much you used in one day exactly a month ago or a year ago. 

Flume telling me I left the hose on too long on July 15  
Even more importantly, the monitor will let you know when you have a leak. If you have been averaging around 10 gallons of water an hour and suddenly you see a spike to 200 gallons, you know you have a leak! You don't even have to notice it yourself because the Flume system will send you a leak notification. Why is this important? Because the most important action you can take to conserve water is to correct leaks immediately. In fact, the average household wastes about 10,000 gallons of water every year due to leaks. 

I learned this the hard way last year. As you probably know, the MMWD water bill comes every two months. I got a very big surprise when I opened my water bill last summer and saw that the charges had jumped from around $130 dollars for one billing period to almost $400! Despite my conservation efforts! I called a leak detection specialist who found a huge underground leak in my irrigation system. So annoying that it had been going on for weeks before I knew about it!

If I had a Flume monitor, I would have been able to see right away that something was off. 

OK, but what is it, exactly?

The Flume monitor was developed by three students at California Polytechnic State University in response to the 2014 drought in California. In subsequent years they have built this product into a highly successful company, with tens of thousands of these devices installed across the United States. 

Eric Adler, co-founder of Flume  Flume for monitoring water

The Flume water monitor has three components. First, there is a water sensor that you strap to your water meter. The sensor measures the water flow and sends this information to the bridge, a little box that you plug into a power outlet inside your home. It connects to your Wifi network and sends data from the sensor into the Cloud. You can access the data using the Flume app. You can read a very detailed, technical review of the Flume system here

Is it hard to get the thing up and running?

  OK, so that's what that thing is....
Not to diss myself, but knowledge of plumbing is not part of my repertoire. For starters, I didn't know where my water meter was, so I was stymied when the Flume installation directions told me to "simply" strap the sensor to my water meter. Amazingly, however, the Flume website answers virtually all questions with no condescension, and I was happy to find specific advice on finding my water meter, even including suggestions on how to use a little tool (which they provide) to pry off the top of the box the meter is in! 

Plugging in the bridge and downloading the app was a piece of cake. I'd estimate the total installation time at 15 minutes if you know where your water meter is....and a bit more if you need to go on a treasure hunt. 

Does using the Flume monitor actually decrease consumption?

Studies of pedometer apps like Pacer show that many people give up on them within a few months (and a few people become unhealthily addicted to them). One problem is that when we start expecting some kind of external reward (like the pleasure of being told by Pacer that you have walked 10,000 steps) for something that you used to think was just intrinsically fun, interesting, or meaningful (like walking), you lose your internal motivation to take a nice walk. This is a well-documented phenomenon in the field of psychology. It's called the over-justification effect. Read more about it here 

Luckily the over-justification effect doesn't really come into play with the Flume, because few people find water conservation to be intrinsically fun or interesting. And once you can see clearly how much water you are wasting in certain specific ways, it becomes possible to focus on that problem area and modify your behavior. In fact, data collected by Flume shows an average 10% reduction in water usage within two weeks, a decrease that remains consistent as time goes on. Moreover, 66% of users receive a leak notification within the first month of using their monitor.

Detecting leaks and reducing consumption on the residential level may not change the world overnight, but it enables customers to grasp and control something that they never before understood. Most people don't know if a shower uses 5 gallons or 50 gallons. Flume educates them and encourages a change in habits.  - Eric Adler, co-founder of Flume


How much does the Flume water monitor cost?

Marin Municipal Water District is offering residents a nice rebate for the Flume water monitor. Click here to find out how to get one for $49...that's 75% off the regular price.

To be honest, I will say that you can also monitor your consumption and check for leaks by consulting your water meter. But the Flume monitor makes it much easier and faster to accomplish these objectives. So go for it!

That's it for this installment of the Notebook! We've upgraded the website to make it easier for you to share posts on social media…so go for it!

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