Sowby wins award, publishes method for validating water use data

20181012_125145Rob Sowby, a water resources engineer at Hansen, Allen & Luce (HAL), won the Fresh Ideas Poster Contest at the AWWA Intermountain Section Annual Conference in October and will advance to the national competition at ACE19 in Denver.

His poster, entitled “Most Numbers Start with 1: Can We Validate Water Use Data with Benford’s Law?” presents a new approach to an old problem, using an even older technique.

“Water use data are important for many decisions, such as infrastructure planning and water conservation,” Dr. Sowby explained. “But since system-level data are usually self-reported and lack independent measurements, how do we know they’re accurate?”

Benford’s Law—first observed more than a century ago—predicts the frequency of leading digits in numerical data. In this distinctive pattern, 1 appears more frequently than any other leading digit. The research shows how water use data should follow this pattern and why deviations may suggest errors, incomplete data, or abnormal consumption.

“This approach would improve the quality of the data and the resulting decisions about how we manage water,” Dr. Sowby said.

His peer-reviewed paper “Conformance of Public Water Use Data to Benford’s Law” appears this month in Journal – American Water Works Association. He also discusses the research in an interview with AWWA Connections.

Photo: Rob Sowby, second from left, is pictured during the awards ceremony at the 2018 AWWA Intermountain Section Annual Conference in Midway, Utah.