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Water Conservation in Urban Areas

April, 08 2011 at 09:10 AM  account icon posted by Anastasia Sagalovitch   image 4 comments »

I was wondering if anyone has done/or is aware of barriers to water conservation in urban areas? I am doing a project on this topic and am searching for past case studies or research papers.

I recently read McKenzie-Mohr's article on community based social marketing (Promoting Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing), where he makes reference to this website along with a framework for marketing in a way to elicits behavior change not just preference shifts. According to this framework, he advocates that first the barriers to a problem within the specific target group must be understood so that the marketing can be tailored to overcoming that barrier. If anyone has come across or knows of someone who has investigated water conservation in urban settings, please let me know. Similarly, if you know of a resource that you think might be useful, please feel free to let me know as well. Your time and attention to this request is greatly appreciated.

I thank you again.


Anastasia Sagalovitch
Graduate Student in Environmental Policy

Anastasia Sagalovitch
United States


4 Comments Sorted by:

1 Kate Hayesaccount icon View Profile Posted on April, 09 2011 at 09:06 AM

Hello Anastasia:


The link to the reports is broken, but I am sure that the coordinator, Glenn Pleasance, would send to you.

Good luck


Kate Hayes

2 Parfrey Jonathanaccount icon View Profile Posted on April, 09 2011 at 11:47 AM

Los Angeles imports 80% of its water -- so conservation is crucial.

In 2010, the City of Los Angeles used 20% less water than in 2008. Certainly, the economic downturn played a role in reducing water use, as did media coverage on California drought, (only lifted last month.) There were however four policy approaches that I think helped reduce water consumption.

1. In 2008, an ordinance was passed restricting outdoor water to two days per week, and then only allowed in the morning and evening. (The City Council recently expanded watering to three days per week.) Citations were issued to those violating the watering ordinances -- however the citations were not punitive but meant to alter behavior.
2. In 2009, tiered-rates were introduced which penalized over-watering and rewarded conservation.
3. In 2009, ordinances were passed which mandated standards of performance for plumbing fixtures in new construction.
4. LA Department of Water and Power's incentive programs. These currently include: 1) compensation for converting turf to drought-resistant plants; 2) rebates for irrigation controllers; 3) rates for washers and toilets.

Last, in the hope of reducing the volume of imported water, it may be helpful to note that Los Angeles is expanding its programs for stormwater capture and recycled water.

Parfrey Jonathan
United States

3 Ron Harbenaccount icon View Profile Posted on April, 11 2011 at 03:00 PM

Anastasia, here are two articles you may find pertinent to your studies:

1. Impacts of Extension Education on Improving Residential Stormwater Quality: Monitoring Results

The project reported in this article evaluated whether stormwater quality could be improved by educating homeowners and implementing best management practices in a suburban neighborhood. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and bacteria levels from two watersheds were compared using the paired watershed approach. Resident surveys, property site assessments, soil tests, and water quality and quantity monitoring were conducted. A x2-analysis of survey data indicated no significant changes in measured behavior. Significant (p=0.01) reductions in NO3-N and fecal coliform bacteria concentrations occurred; however, total nitrogen concentrations did not change significantly.


Michael E. Dietz
Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering
Internet Address:

John C. Clausen
Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering
Internet Address:

Glenn S. Warner
Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering
Internet Address:

Karen K. Filchak
Department of Cooperative Extension

University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut

2. Education and Changes in Residential Nonpoint Source Pollution
Department of Natural Resources Management and
University of Connecticut
1376 Storrs Road, Unit 4087
Storrs, Connecticut, 06269-4087, USA
Windham Extension Center
University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension
139 Wolf Den Road
Brooklyn, Connecticut, 06234-1729, USA

ABSTRACT / Urban areas contribute pollutants such as excess nitrogen and bacteria to receiving water bodies. The objective of this project was to determine if stormwater quality could be improved by educating homeowners and
implementing best management practices (BMPs) in a suburban neighborhood. The paired watershed design was used, where a control and treatment watershed are monitored during a calibration and treatment period. Treatment consisted of the education of homeowners and structural changes designed to minimize nonpoint pollution. Some changes in measured behavior were reported. According to
the treatment period survey, 11% of respondents in the treatment watershed began fertilizing their lawn based on the results of a soil test, whereas none had done so previously. In addition, 82% of respondents in the treatment watershed
stated that they left clippings on the lawn compared to 62% from the initial survey. Twelve of 34lots (35%) adopted some BMPs following education efforts, indicating a significant (P = 0.001) increase in BMP use overall. However, a v2 analysis of survey data indicated no significant changes in measured behavior with regard to specific questions. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) results indicated
that a 75% reduction in nitrite + nitrate - N (change in intercept, P = 0.001) and a 127% reduction in fecal coliform bacteria (change in slope, P = 0.05) concentrations occurred. However, the treatment period regression was nonsignificant for bacteria. Total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and ammonia-N concentrations did not change significantly. Intensive education efforts produced BMP implementation and measurable water quality improvements.

Ron Harben
Air Quality Coordinator
California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
United States

4 Ruben Andersonaccount icon View Profile Posted on April, 27 2011 at 05:48 PM

Water is a hard one.

I always think a good place to start is with where the water is going--and that can be very hard to figure out, lots of places don't have great data on water use.

In some places leakage in pipes is one of the biggest losses. Does it make sense to do a huge toilet replacement campaign when that may save 1% and pipe leakage is 15% (all numbers for entertainment purposes only)

Similarly, does it make sense to do a huge toilet replacement campaign when what would actually save more water is a Let It Mellow campaign?

I work on the west coast, where it feels like it rains every day. I think water conservation is a losing concept in this area. We need to focus our communications on the seasonality of the water supply.

The report from Durham is listed above--there were three or four reports that came out from that region on CBSM work for lawn watering. One of them found that people watered more after it rained. Clearly we are not understanding the relationship residents have with water and their lawn. I think we need to focus more on the one inch a week message, and on wiring sensors into automatic systems. That would best be served through a regulation or licensing approach--maybe irrigation installers need to be licensed.

You can use tiered rates if you have meters, but if you don't it will be an expensive political football to install meters....

Industry uses huge amounts of water, and yet we often focus on residents. Why would we try to target millions of people when we could focus on thousands? But making these choices requires data on consumption, observations and measurements.

So, I think there needs to be good data, and some strategic program choices. My area has lawn watering restrictions, but no idea as to whether people comply--we don't track that, so we don't know if our education and communications campaigns work.

In the behaviour change literature it is pretty clear that it is very hard to get people to think. Our brains use habits and rules of thumb to save energy. So what is the rule of thumb for lawn watering? I would suggest "Only one inch a week, and not when your neighbour is watering"

Ruben Anderson
Communications Specialist
Metro Vancouver