Solving the Puzzle: Understanding Customers through their Water Use History

Last week, I posted a graph of my household water use for the past few years and challenged our readers to identify as many interesting characteristics about my household as they can. Often, the only data a water utility has on their customers are what they have in their billing records. Other household characteristics, such as size of household, income, age, house and lot size and features, water use behavior and preferences, etc., are very difficult to obtain for each customer. However, as demonstrated by my own personal example, mining the billing data alone can reveal much about each household. Here is what my water use history reveals about my household, and the application of this exercise in water resources and utility finance management.

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What Can You Tell About My Household Based on Our Water Use History?

Are you up for a challenge? I have disclosed in this graph my own household’s water use between June 2006 and December 2014, as reported on my water bills. Without any more information about my household’s characteristics (except that it is residential, on a single 5/8″ meter, and using drinking water and wastewater service from one utility), this is the extent of knowledge that my utility has about my household. Yet, my water use data – which are present in the utility’s billing records – reveal much about my household. My challenge to you is to look at this graph and identify as many  interesting characteristics about my household as you can. Think about it, too, from the perspective of how the utility should interact with my household. Here are a few questions to consider to get you started:

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Springing Forward from a Great 2014 at the EFC

Springtime in North Carolina normally showcases two things I love: the environment and teamwork.

Even if your work doesn’t involve environmental protection, it’s hard not to think about environment this time of year with trees budding out in a green wave, flowers blooming everywhere, and rivers churning with winter and spring rains. At the same time, everyone is talking about teams. It’s NCAA basketball tournament time, and it’s hard to walk down an office corridor or go into a restaurant without someone talking about teams and team strategy.

I couldn’t help thinking about these two subjects as I helped write our annual report this year, because they are the very same subjects that dominate our work. Obviously we are focused on the environment – it’s in our name, and the drive to protect and preserve the environment is the constant force that runs through our diverse portfolio of projects.

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Clearing the Air: Reducing Residential Wood Smoke in Portola, CA

It was a beautiful morning as I made the one hour drive from Reno, Nevada to the small rural mountain valley community of Portola, California. Each turn brought increasingly picturesque views of mountains, forests and lakes. As I started my descent into the city, I noticed a slight haze in the valley. Could it be fog? Was it an oncoming storm? Perhaps a forest fire? At another time of year, it might have been any of these natural causes. But at this time of year – early March, temperatures in the 30’s, no wind – it was none of these. What I was seeing hovering in the valley was a layer of smoke, and I was going to be spending my day discussing the environmental, economic and health benefits of reducing it.

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The Power of Words: Survey Results on Communicating the Need for a Water Rate Increase Part 2

Our first post this week presented overall findings from a survey conducted on communication between staff and elected officials regarding water utility finances. As many would assume, a solid working relationship between the two parties is important to achieving a rate increase that provides full-cost recovery. But, when hearing a rate case, what information matters most to elected officials?

The survey asked elected officials what kind of information is the most important in helping them make the best decision about a rate increase for the water utility. It also asked administrators what they believed to be the most important information to share with elected officials. This allowed a comparison to be made between elected officials’ and administrators’ responses.

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