September 26, 2016
Supply Reliability Standards
Water-supply reliability is essential for a strong economy and quality of life. Consequently, our tolerance for sustained water shortages should be extremely low. Framing reliability in terms of risk tolerance helps us reinforce that water-supply planning is a risk-management problem. There are several important topics to consider when communicating about reliability. These topics include defining clear standards, the role that climate change plays in the dialogue, and in some regions whether we are reaching "drought fatigue" with the public. This Branding Update addresses supply-reliability standards.
Adopting a Very Specific Standard - If we are going to have a meaningful discussion about reliability, and increase our chances of securing appropriate investment in water resources, then we need to describe reliability. One way to do this is to adopt a specific reliability standard, for example water restrictions occurring in no more than one in ten years. In this context, we are defining restrictions as requiring the customer to go beyond water efficiency. Being this explicit does not imply that we can precisely calculate what is required to meet this standard. However, it can enhance our thinking about the efficacy of a standard, needed investments, and compliance. For example, we can argue that the public would view allowing water restrictions every 3-5 years as substandard, whereas restrictions occurring in one out of every 20 years is overkill (and too costly). Hence, we can almost intuitively hone in on the ten-year standard.
The Value of Being Clear - Having a specific standard in place enhances our ability to evaluate potential investments, and assess the probability that we will succeed or fail. For example, a utility's recommended supply investments might be very different if the standard allowed restrictions every third year, instead of every tenth year. And given a ten-year standard, we can unambiguously state that restrictions occurring every 4 or 5 years is a failure. It's hard to ascertain today what water utilities consider to be a reliability failure. Are we already experiencing failure? Are we actually leading a public dialogue that defines success and addresses the risks in a meaningful way? And how long will we be able to blame drought for what appears to be increasing water restrictions?
The Power of Standards - As we have discussed in previous Branding Updates, communicating specific standards is a powerful way to describe value, state a problem, and increase our chances of securing needed investment.