As California continues to grapple with one of the worst droughts on record, government officials are scrambling to provide an accurate picture of just how severe the water problem is.
In fact, just last month, the state’s water board admitted that it doesn’t actually know how much water residents are using, which makes it pretty difficult to implore Californians to cut back. But a new app is working to help complete that picture for the state, enabling residents to track how much water they use daily.
Dropcountr monitors water use in real-time, alerting users when numbers are particularly high and creating reports to show trends over time. The app also allows users to compare how much water they’re using to other neighbors with similar sized-homes, according to Fast Company.
“The first response we get from folks is, ‘Wow, I had no idea that I used that much water,'” said Robb Barnitt, CEO of Dropcountr. “That’s really the first piece we’re trying to deliver — transparency and visibility. It’s really tough to gain much insight from your water bill.”
The app also informs customers about new regulations or rebates from their local utility. For instance, a resident might not be aware of California’s $500 fine for overwatering lawns or excess use for washing sidewalks and driveways.
“It’s really difficult to understand how much water you’re using, or whether that’s reasonable and appropriate based on your household size,” Barnitt says. “We’ve taken a social approach, where we compare a given account to others like them. We’ve seen that’s a powerful motivator in similar programs on the energy side. People are very interested in how they compare to others.”
The company has just started partnering with utilities and working with property management companies, which typically are unaware of how much water their tenants use. The app is a more accurate alternative to the water bill residents receive every one to two months, illuminating how wasteful people can be. In some areas of California, including parts of Sacramento and Bakersfield, officials don’t use water meters at all.
But the app is not available yet for all 440 water agencies across the state. The startup continues to partner with more utilities, as well as implemented a “poke” feature to enable customers to alert their utility about the service.
Dropcountr is also working on developing a feature that will use patterns of flow to discern how someone is using water. For example, if a person is using water for an outdoor irrigation system or appliances, Barnett told Fast Company, it’s easily identifiable.
Last month, 58 percent of the state was considered to be under “exceptional” drought, notching the harshest level of a five level scale. Implementing an app like Dropcountr is not only smart, but seems critical.
MORE: Even as the Drought Continues, Californians Can Drink From a Firehose of Solutions