Case Study: Dublin San Ramon Services District, CA
|Case Study: Dublin San Ramon Services District (PDF)|
Dublin San Ramon Services District - Crossroads of the Tri-Valley Area
Located east of the Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD) serves the City of Dublin and parts of San Ramon, CA. Through 21,524 connections, the District provides potable water, recycled water, and sewer services to businesses, commercial users, and 78,000 residents.
Dublin has been one of the fastest growing cities in Alameda County for the past several years. When fully built out, the number or water and sewer connections could double.
The District gets water from Lake Oroville, groundwater, and local runoff impounded at Lake Del Valle. The organization has historically been very progressive in protecting and conserving its water resources. For example, in 2002, DSRSD built a wastewater recycling plant that produces treated water for landscape irrigation in: parks, schools, the Dublin Ranch Golf Course, and large common areas at residential and commercial developments.
The District has added new distribution lines and pump stations to improve the reliability of water delivery. DSRSD operates a comprehensive acoustic leak detection program to identify and repair distribution line leaks, and regularly invests in potable water pipe refurbishment and replacement.
Proactively Responding to the California Drought
Long before the Governor of California mandated statewide water cutbacks requiring that all suppliers reduce their usage by 25%, DSRSD had already ramped up its water savings efforts. Some of the District's water conservation efforts included:
- $3.5 million investment in a fixed-base, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) "smart meter network"
- A free residential recycled water fill station program. (DSRSD was the first water supplier to get approvals required to develop this system)
- Rebates for turf replacement, high efficiency appliances, weather-based irrigation controllers, and pool covers
- Free water saving device giveaways--low-flow showerheads, hose nozzles, and more.
In 2014, well in advance of the State mandates, the District made some tough, and forward looking decisions.
DSRSD put in place mandatory water restrictions. Each residential customer would be allocated 4,480 gallons (600 cubic feet or 6 HCF) of water per week for indoor and outdoor requirements. The District was clear about its goals:
- Reduce overall water use by 25%, compared with their 2013 baseline
- Reduce outdoor irrigation by 50-60%
- Reduce indoor usage by 5%.
The standards also called for decreasing the number of irrigation days to two per week. They expanded and "marketed" their recycled water program. Restrictions were put in place to limit runoff and over-watering. Potable water could no longer be used to wash vehicles, boats, pavement, or building exteriors.
These weren't a set of "toothless" ordinances either. A first offense would earn the customer a warning letter. A second offense would get the account holder a $250 fine. For third and fourth offenses--$500 and $1,000 respectively--you could make a couple of car payments. Continued egregious water consumption could lead to the installation of a flow restrictor or service shutoff.
This We based our decision to implement AquaHawk in part because it was easy-to-use and affordably priced. But what really got my attention was AmCoBi's customer-driven approach. They were interested in finding out our organization's needs, not just telling us what they thought those needs were.
|-- Vicki Goldman, Customer Services Supervisor, Dublin San Ramon Services District|
Support Before Enforcement
The District didn't just establish these rules and leave customers to fend for themselves. They simultaneously launched the AquaHawk Alerting™ customer portal application which enabled users to: see their water use; receive notifications--text message, e-mail, or phone call--when they were trending to exceed the ordinance limits; and receive proactive alerts if they were experiencing potential leaks.
A Customer Portal Dialed for Drought Management
Vicki Goldman, Customer Services Supervisor, commented that: "Prior to selecting AquaHawk, we looked at several consumer engagement solutions offered by different AMI manufacturers and third parties. They didn’t offer simple ways for our customers to 'pull' information on their own."
"With the mobile drive-by Automated Meter Reading (AMR) system we were using at the time, it was difficult and time-intensive to find information and 'push' it to customers, in order to answer their questions. We need efficient tools because we operate with a very small customer support staff."
"We based our decision to implement AquaHawk in part because it was easy-to-use and affordably priced. But what really got my attention was AmCoBi's customer-driven approach," explained Ms. Goldman. "They were interested in finding out our organization's needs, not just telling us what they thought those needs were. They've been able to tailor their system to meet our specific requirements, and continue to add capabilities that make it a 'one-stop shop' for our customers."
Getting Customers to Participate
Nearly 40% of DSRSD's service community has subscribed to the AquaHawk portal. They've accomplished this through a comprehensive outreach program that includes:
- Delivering postcards to customers informing them of the service
- Bill inserts that highlight the portal's capabilities
- Press releases to local media
- Contacting local news affiliates and encouraging them to cover the program. See the CBS SF Bay Area story: http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video/2935991-east-bay-water-officials-install-smart-water-meters-to-help-conserve/
"Persistent and frequent communications help us achieve the high registration rates," emphasized Ms. Goldman. "We've invested in these technology tools to help our customers. In almost every outbound communication we make, we mention the service. When customers call our support line, our team takes the time to let them know that AquaHawk is available and what it does. When we're signing up new customers, we not only tell them about it, but in many cases, complete the registration process for them."
Spectacular Water Savings Results
The results have been exciting. "We're meeting our 12% drought reduction target for 2015. As of July, our customers have reduced their usage by 34% from our 2013 baseline," reported Ms. Goldman.
"We created so much momentum in 2014 around water savings that our community has carried that forward this year. Customers are sensitive to the issues and are responding."
"With AquaHawk, there's much less arguing with customers about excessive bills. When they do call because they think they haven't used the amount of water documented on their bill, we can use the system to show them when the water was being used and talk to them about things they might do to reduce their next bill."
DSRSD's leak detection and notification program has generated very positive response. "I recently noticed high usage at several schools in our District," she shared. "It was easy and quick for me to send the school contacts an e-mail message notifying them of the situation. They were surprised and thankful that we reached out."
From two sites and 18 pumping stations, the District has given away 9.79 million gallons of recycled water. 2,859 residents signed up for this service and it's a common site to see trucks with large tanks and barrels in the back, driving around the community.
The program was originally open to anyone including people outside of the Tri-Valley. It has been so successful, however, that the utility could not handle the traffic and is currently only issuing new certifications to residents inside the District and from Pleasanton and Livermore.
Initially, the total number of accounts exceeding the water ordinance limits was 1,000. That's down to 200 now, less that 1% of their total customer base.
Preparing for Persistent Drought
Should the drought persist next year, as it appears it may, DSRSD continues to prepare by improving the technology tools available to clients.
To encourage more customers to use AquaHawk, the District is adding features that are unrelated to water consumption. For example, an integrated electronic billing capability is being developed so users can elect to receive e-mailed statements instead of print bills. They'll also be able to view and download past invoices.
They've already completed a single sign-on integration to their online payment provider that allows users to click a button and be automatically logged into the payment site. AquaHawk will transfer any account information, that the customer would otherwise have to type in, to the payment site, including the current balance due amount.
To drive further water savings, ad hoc query capabilities are being added to the database so District employees can review groups of similar users--schools, City assets, commercial businesses, etc.--and conduct comparative water use analyses.
Group messaging capabilities in AquaHawk will enable the District to proactively notify their customers about conservation information, line breaks, shutoff notifications, service interruptions, and other important notices.
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About AquaHawk Software
AquaHawk™ is an affordable Web-based, customer portal solution that helps water, electric, and gas utilities improve customer service and build stronger client relationships. By presenting useful data and actionable information, providers can reduce routine support calls, easily resolve high bill complaints, and give customers more control over how they use utilities.
Developed by AmCoBi, AquaHawk is a vendor neutral solution that integrates with Sensus FlexNet™, Aclara STAR® Network, KP Electronics MegaNet, Itron ChoiceConnect™, Neptune R450™ and R900®, Badger GALAXY®/ORION, Datamatic, ZENNER Stealth™ and other leading systems.