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Pilot project shows water savings for customers

Blog Post
An innovative program helps save low-income customers money while reducing water use at the same time.

More than 15% of Portlanders are experiencing poverty and for people with low incomes, utility bills can be a major challenge. The City of Portland offers help managing the costs of the sewer, stormwater, and water bill, including a bill discount program, payment arrangements, monthly billing, and water efficiency programs to help check for customer leaks and use water wisely.

For more than 25 years, the Portland Water Bureau has offered water efficiency programs, including rebates, water-saving devices, school programs, and water assessments for businesses. This program has focused on working closely with low-income customers.

Woman in polka dot shirt holds a water saving device in her hand and smiles at camera

The WaterSmart Project

In 2015, the Water Bureau launched a pilot study to evaluate the impact of providing detailed water use information to customers enrolled in the City’s bill discount program. The Water Bureau adopted a tool called WaterSmart, which creates custom home water reports and an online portal for individual customer accounts. The customized reports include water efficiency tips and a look at how the customer’s water use compares to the water use of similar households.

Studying Savings and Satisfaction

The Water Bureau wanted to measure how WaterSmart would affect water savings and customer satisfaction, so for the pilot a Randomized Control Trial was done to evaluate how well the tool worked. For the Randomized Control Trial, half of the bill discount program customers were picked at random to receive quarterly home water reports. The other half of bill discount customers did not receive WaterSmart reports or access to online tools. This allowed the Water Bureau to study water savings and customer satisfaction changes between the groups.

Collectively, customers in Portland’s WaterSmart program saved two million gallons of water over the course of the two-year pilot. Seventy-one percent of customers reported that the tips helped them be more water efficient. More information on the findings from the study can be found in the final program report.

Extending Access

Based on the success of the pilot, the Water Bureau extended WaterSmart access to all customers enrolled in the bill discount program. These customers can use WaterSmart to sign up for email or text leak notices, view their water use over time, and get customized information about how to use less water.

If you have questions about the program, call or email the Water Bureau’s water efficiency team at 503-823-4527 or conserve@portlandoregon.gov.