In California, Smart Water Meters Tattle on Wasteful Ways

The internet-connected meters provide nearly real-time feedback on water use

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In drought-parched California, people are looking for ways to cut back on water — and authorities are looking for ways to crack down on people who violate increasingly strict ordinances about water waste. Now, those authorities have a new ally in the fight, writes Wired’s Klint Finley: smart water meters that can tattle on wasteful water users.

Finley reports that municipalities like the Long Beach Water Department are increasingly turning to Internet-connected water meters that report water usage in nearly real time. These meters are a dramatic shift from the status quo, writes Finley. Older models simply report how much water has been used in a month, not how much water is used on a day-to-day basis.

This can cause property owners to miss wasters like leaks — or evade detection when they guzzle water on, say, sprinklers that point in the wrong direction, run during rainstorms, or put out more water than rations allow. But smart meters face one big challenge, writes Finley: most utility companies that aren’t prepared to be tech companies, too. Besides, utilities are historically not too inclined to snoop on customers’ water use. After all, they get paid more the more their customers use. 

But Finley notes that smart meter manufacturers like T2 are using workarounds to bypass the need for water companies to install expensive new infrastructure. T2’s cloud-hosted smart meters allow users (and authorities who monitor usage) to keep track of water conserved, leaks, high usage times, backflow and times when no water is being used.

Will snooping water meters help dry up California’s drought? It’s unlikely given the fact that water conservation remains controversial in the state. But smart water meters could have a long-term benefit: making customers more aware of their water usage over time. Sure, as Finley points out, "residential savings are small compared to the amount of water used by agricultural systems,” but during one of the worst droughts the state has ever seen, every drop counts.