We quickly decided that the best way to get people involved was by giving them an opportunity to contribute -- and see -- data that was relevant to them.
For pragmatic reasons (water quality is too hard to measure cheaply and quickly), we decided it would be easiest if people could enter the price they pay for the water they use (as well as the number of people using that water). Then people could see how much they were paying and using (per day per person) and compare their numbers with people around the State.
If you want to go do that now, then get a recent bill and go here. It takes a minute or two.
The website also has some CPUC data on water tariffs for investor-owned utilities. The Atlas will add functions for people (or agencies) to enter tariffs in the future.*** The combination of use, headcount and tariffs will make it MUCH easier to understand the incentives customers face (see my paper on water tariffs in 100+ countries [pdf] for an example).
The best part this new project is that will make it easy for people to get a deeper understanding of how water prices vary from place to place, using data that will be far more disbursed and current than the data coming from expensive and infrequent surveys. These surveys take a lot of work and they provide a lot of information, but they only come out every year or two.**** Most people want "immediate" data, and the Atlas will move us in that direction.
Bottom Line: California is in a grievous drought, but we know more about traffic delays than our water prices and use. Go contribute your data -- and tell everyone to do the same. We cannot have enough information when it comes to making water decisions.
* Not exactly true. He's had support from RRI and many advisers and volunteer coders.
** Some of you may recall my attempt to get the water data hub off the ground. The site (now a zombie) failed for lack of interest from the big data providers (World Bank, UN-Water, et al.)
*** Laci gave this clarification in a launch email:
If you have a water bill that you are willing to contribute, the site awaits you! Please share with friends, colleagues, family, and so on. If you know folks at water agencies who may be willing to contribute data to the "agency" side of the site, we would appreciate introductions. And, if you have ideas for corporate sponsors, please send them our way. In the future, we will be adding a "submit a photo of your bill" function. We are considering the pros and cons of offering rewards/incentives to increase inputting of bill data. While it is naturally the case that such a crowd-sourced survey is biased, we believe that the true value of this project will come from its ability to inspire and encourage conversations about the availability of and access to water data in our state.**** Recent surveys on prices include Walton (2014) on 30 US cities, Gaur et al. (2013) on California [misnamed PDF], and Donnelly and Christian-Smith on California (2013). Read these to understand more about tariff structures and trends.
H/T to RM