Universities, Water Providers Launch Conservation Effort

With a third of Texans still facing drought conditions, a coalition of Texas universities and water providers has launched an $8 million effort to curb water use in cities.

Screenshots of the University Municipal Water Consortium's smart phone app.

With a third of Texans still facing drought conditions, a coalition of Texas universities and water providers has launched an $8 million effort to curb water use in cities.

The University Municipal Water Consortium – a team of more than 25 local, state and regional water providers and researchers from Texas A&M University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio – seeks to develop new ways to conserve water and chart use in hundreds of homes across the state.

Pecan Street Inc., an Austin-based research and development nonprofit, unveiled the project this week.

“Growing populations and drought are threatening water supplies from California to Florida,” Brewster McCracken, the nonprofit's CEO, said in a statement. “Our members have joined together to develop and test promising hardware and software solutions so we can ensure that utilities, communities and customers have access to data-driven information and cost-effective innovations.”

Urban water use in Texas is growing nine times faster than all other uses combined, according to the Texas Water Development Board. That’s what triggered the consortium’s focus on cities.

The effort includes a lab focused on commercializing new technologies. The group also plans to buy equipment that will allow it to measure water use in homes in Arlington, Austin, East Rio Hondo, El Paso, Houston, Killeen and San Antonio – enabling volunteers to view their use and detect leaks using a smartphone app.

By 2016, the group estimates, it will have gathered more customer data each month than all Texas utilities combined.

The consortium’s funding includes a $4 million matching grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund – former Gov. Rick Perry’s now-beleaguered economic development initiative. More than a dozen technology firms have also chipped in.

As of Thursday, more than 9 million Texans – about a third of the state’s population – were experiencing some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Disclosure: Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. The Pecan Street Project was a corporate sponsor in 2010 and 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.