We Need A Smarter Way To Save Water

The idea for meter was conceived while I was brainstorming for my take on the 100 Days Challenge, 100 Days of Reimagining the World. Meter was originally posted on Medium and you can read the full article here. The following is an abridged version.

As the New Year begins, California is entering its fourth year of record breaking drought. And yet, our state still hasn’t come up with any good way to educate the public on conservation, properly communicate water use data with residents, or really address the real drainers of the water supply — agriculture, in relation to the water footprint. To truly solve these problems, there would most likely need to actually be a cultural shift in terms of diet, as well as a massive overhaul of the current water system infrastructure.

The Problems:

  1. Sure, we all know that we need to take shorter showers, turn off the water while we’re brushing our teeth, but how much water does that truly save? Are there other aspects of our daily routines in which we can pinpoint areas to save water?

  2. Something like 80% of California’s water use comes from agricultural use. One pound of beef takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce. Most people don’t know that because it’s part of one’s water footprint, not daily water use.
  3. Not only are water meters difficult to read (outside the house under a cement cover and in the ground), but many homes are lacking meters altogether! How do residents keep track of their water usage?

  4. When the need arises, many homeowners are not adequately notified of “no watering days” and other events of that nature, leading to wasted water and lots of citations.

The water footprint is a measure of humanity’s appropriation of fresh water in volumes of water consumed and/or polluted.
— Water Footprint Network

The Solution:

I wanted to try to solve the problem on a micro level, to put more control in the hands of each individual person. So, I introduce to you, a mobile app concept: Meter.

What if we make a calorie counter, but for water usage tracking? Having a user manually input water usage data can not only increase personal awareness of water consumption, but also provide relatively low-tech ways to access specific data about household activities that use water. The user wouldn’t need to install hardware like special shower heads, new dishwashers, etc. In this way, the data can be used to:

  • Analyze and rank activities that contribute most to water consumption levels
  • Help residents track their water use in an easily accessible way, not under a slab of cement in the street
  • Collect water footprint data that would otherwise be very difficult to calculate

The images below represent a potential user flow for the application, with modules that are highlighted in green being the use cases for which I designed interfaces.

User Flow

Style Guide



Bugs that might have been exposed had I done user testing:

  • Different levels of water pressure = differences in amount of water used

  • Kind of annoying to constantly input “washed hands for 15 seconds”

  • Inaccuracies due to human error, like forgetting to input an activity

Extra feature possibilities:

  • Push notifications for “no watering days” type alerts

  • Water saving tips in pop ups

  • Quick add menu: for common tasks like toilet flushing and dishwashing, a user-defined menu with a shortcut could be implemented to expedite data input

  • Water footprint details and trends

When we think of good user experiences today, we think of not thinking. The less thinking involved in using the product, the better. In this case, I want you to think, to let Meter cause you to take an active and educated role in your contribution to sustainability. Manually inputting your water use will help you consciously process each situation in which you are either directly using water, or increasing your water footprint.

Ultimately, I see a product like this to be something that raises awareness, from educating people on the water footprint of their daily activities, to helping residents understand and track their water use. Perhaps, for the “hardcore” sustainably minded Californian, counting gallons could become a routine, but at the minimum, Meter could help us all better understand our impact on the drought in a tangible and quantifiable way.