Energy & Environment Lab Smart Water Conservation Enforcement

The Western US is facing its worst mega-drought in over 1,000 years and California is no exception, with over 88% of the state experiencing at least ‘Severe Drought.’ While limits on outdoor water use are a common tool to manage water consumption in response to this scarcity, enforcement of these restrictions can be difficult and costly. Historically, this has required inspectors to patrol communities to observe lawns for signs of watering at prohibited times.  

However, the widespread use of smart meters offers a potentially much more effective alternative by enabling real-time monitoring of household water consumption. The Energy & Environment Lab has partnered with Fresno, California, to help them use smart meters to identify and enforce water restrictions, while minimizing households’ fine burden.  

To implement a pilot study evaluating this approach, we employed a randomized control trial to vary, by residence, the probability and the magnitude of fines levied for violations of outdoor water restrictions. We found automated enforcement decreases water use by 3 percent and violations by 17 percent. This research will help cities understand how to use automated metering to effectively promote water conservation while minimizing the burden of fines on households. 

You can access the research brief here and the published paper here


  1. Smart Technology Can Help Us Conserve Water—If We Let It (EPIC News)
  2. Real-Time Data Was Used to Regulate Water Use. It May Have Worked Too Well (WSJ)
  3. Smart Meter Monitoring Can Help Conserve Water — But Not Without a Fight (The Hill)