A behavioral water efficiency program carried out at California water utility East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has demonstrated average water use reductions of 5%.

The program, carried out with the California Water Foundation (CWF) and WaterSmart Software, was based on providing ‘home water reports’ to help households compare their water use to neighborhood averages.

Behavioral efficiency programs, such as those by Opower, have been used successfully by energy utilities, but this is believed to be the first large-scale implementation of the technology by a large, urban water utility.

In the EBMUD pilot, which was conducted over one year, 10,000 residential customers were provided visual, easy-to-understand water use reports, developed by WaterSmart Software. The individualized reports provided customers with their personal water use data, compared their water use to similar sized homes in the area, and made personalized recommendations on ways to save water. A control group helped ensure that other factors affecting water use, such as weather and other market or consumer behaviors outside the pilot were taken into account when estimating water savings.

In addition to the average 5% reduction in residential water use, the study findings showed that customers were more than twice as likely to participate in other EBMUD water conservation programs than customers who were offered the same programs but not told how their water use compared to the average. They were also more than six times as likely to request a home water audit to help them identify ways to save water.

Noteworthy also was that paper reports delivered by mail appeared to be more effective in terms of water savings than electronic reports delivered by email.

“Our customers are conservation-minded and don’t want to waste water. They want an answer to this basic question: ‘How efficient am I?’” explained Richard Harris, EBMUD manager of Water Conservation. “We were able to provide specific feedback for them, coupled with water-wise tips. We were targeting a 2% increase in conservation, and our customers achieved 5%.”

Based on the results of this pilot, EBMUD is moving forward in 2014 with plans to expand its social norms-based pilot program that the company hopes will be used by many of its residential customers in years to come.

EBMUD provides drinking water for more than 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

View the independent report on the program HERE