Wednesday, October 21, 2015

WaterSmart Innovations 2015: Thoughts and Impressions

By Mackenzie Boyer

Full disclosure: WaterSmart Innovations is my favorite conference. I love the focus on real-world utility projects, with a sprinkling of university-generated research (like my own). This was my second time attending, and I’m already thinking of how to return in 2016. What follows are some insights and reflections on my WaterSmart experience this fall.
Speaker badge so you know it's real
Gator Nation Rolls Deep
This year representing the IrriGators in Las Vegas were: Drs. Michael Dukes, Melissa Baum-Haley (’11), Stacia Davis (’14), and myself. Also representing UF was Scott Knight (Environmental Engineering ’15), who had received a Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR) scholarship.

From left: Drs. Michael Dukes, Melissa Baum-Haley, Stacia Davis and PhD candidate Mackenzie Boyer
In the Audience
Some of the more memorable sessions I attended included:
Karen Guz’s (San Antonio Water) first presentation was such a well told story that I went back for two more or her talks. I especially liked her anecdotes about conservation efforts well-intended but misguided (like the reuse system with potable backup that used more potable water than if the system had just avoided reuse altogether), or with an ulterior motive (like a certain water tower that doubles as an advertisement). 
San Antonio Water's Karen Guz
I saw several presentations on Cash for Grass programs including Sarah Fleury with Castaic Lake Water Agency (take away message: don’t automatically trust customers when they say they have turf in their landscape) and Melissa Baum-Haley with Municipal Water District of Orange County. Both projects were hugely popular. In MWDOC’s case, paper applications were literally stacking up day after day - the rebates of $2-$8/square foot of turf removed coupled with California’s historic drought made the program too attractive to too many customers.

Watershed Management Group's Kiernan Sikdar
Kiernan Sikdar had me ready to move from Gainesville to Tucson just so I could join in Watershed Management Group’s co-op program. A “barn-raising” model that can teach me how and then help me get a gorgeous landscape that thrives from harvesting on-site water? Sign me up!

Waterless and fabulous: Mackenzie Boyer with urinal
At the WaterSmart product expo, I talked shop with other attendees: “You have AMI data?! I want AMI data!” and “Oh you aggregate your data to the census tract level before running correlations? That’s a great approach!” I also couldn’t help but cuddle up to a urinal in honor of some other unnamed Gator engineers who love urine way too much. 

At the Podium
As for my presentation on water restrictions in Florida's Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, I had to begin with the embarrassing admission that my title - Irrigation water restrictions, not as good as you think - although supported by my preliminary data, was incongruous with the presentation I was about to give. 
Going from two day per week allowable irrigation to one day per week allowable irrigation reduced annual irrigation demand by about 14%. However, these trends don’t hold true for all customers. In a newer part of the City of Tampa, customers actually increased their irrigation when restrictions tightened to fewer days. What’s unique about our study is that the evaluation period is over a decade long, where previous studies on water restrictions have been limited to evaluation periods of two months to two years. 

Best Coast?
I spent a summer during college in Arizona working as an intern with the Indian Health Service. I fell in love with the desert landscape and that dry heat that is absolutely nothing like Florida’s sticky, humid summers. Not quite being able to experience the western environment while in a conference all day, Stacia Davis and I headed out to explore a few parks after the conference ended. 
Standing atop Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, I felt like I could do anything- like maybe even graduate one day. When Stacia and I stopped by Lake Mead, we saw firsthand why over 1,000 professionals attended WaterSmart: Conservation is key. 
You can revisit all the great work presented at WaterSmart Innovations 2015 here.