Newport testing software to measure a home's water use

For the next three to six months, the city of Newport Beach will be testing software that could help residents learn how they, individually, can best conserve water.

In September, the city entered into an agreement with Virginia-based Omniearth, which says its sophisticated software can help determine a household's ideal indoor and outdoor water usage.

Though the city chipped in $5,000 under a contact approved by Newport's municipal operations director, George Murdoch, a majority of the Omniearth subscription is being paid for with a grant through the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, a joint powers authority made up of five member agencies, including the Orange County Water District.

To reach an ideal outdoor usage, Omniearth takes data gathered on each single-family home in Newport from imagery similar to satellite images found on Google Earth. Using that imagery and seeing if the property contains aspects like a pool, trees or irrigable landscaping, the software can determine ideal water usage on a parcel-by-parcel basis, Murdoch said.

With Omniearth's help, Newport could target people who could conserve more water instead of "telling everyone to conserve," Murdoch said. "I think people, overall, are going to like this methodology better."

Murdoch said the software could equalize residents' efforts to cut back on water use, because while some Newport homes may have a lot of landscaping and could more easily cut back on that, others have none and are having a more difficult time conserving from their already low relative usage.

Indoor usage — showering and washing clothes and dishes — is dependent on how many people are living in a home and is more difficult to determine, Murdoch said.

Murdoch presented the concept to the city's Water Quality/Coastal Tidelands Committee on Thursday to get its input as well as the attending public's. The panel and attendees expressed interest in Omniearth's potential but wanted to hear more about it at a future meeting.

Murdoch said Omniearth's software has not yet examined commercial or multi-unit properties, which have different water needs than single-family homes.

Murdoch said that before Omniearth data is used to amend Newport's water conservation ordinance, the matter would need to go to the City Council for approval.

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @BradleyZint

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