Reducing Water Demand -Suggestions

Conservation has been part of the water industry for more than 30 years,
with various levels of organizational commitment. Increasingly, however, state
and federal regulations aimed at limiting consumption, plus the high cost of
developing alternative sources, have water agencies developing better strategies
to reach the public.

In the 1970s, El Dorado County in the Gold Rush Country of California found
itself fighting its way through a bad drought. To get the public’s attention the
El Dorado Irrigation District (EID) sent a truck around with a loudspeaker blaring
its message of conservation.

Over the years water conservation campaigns have used similar broad strokes,
whether in response to an immediate water crisis or in hopes of long-term savings.
One after another, water districts and municipal agencies have duplicated each
others’ messages and tactics, from youth education to consumer advice on
everything from fixing leaks to watering the lawn more efficiently. But with many
agencies now scrambling to meet federal and state mandates to cut water
consumption, and faced with the possibility of having to develop new sources,
conservation has become the name of the game. Many water conservation
departments now are finding themselves at center stage, scrambling to
develop new messages and tactics that will get the public’s attention, in
some cases adopting elements of what has become known as community-based
social marketing, including defining barriers against behavior change, piloting
programs, and doing post-program testing.

“It’s conservation as a source of supply,” says Rich Gustav, resource conservation
manager at Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) in Seattle, WA. “We’re gaining supply
through new efficiencies.”

What’s key, says engineer and water consultant Amy Vickers, author of
Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Businesses, Industries,
Farms (WaterPlow Press), “is that public outreach programs must be conjoined
with a conservation plan that will actually implement efficiency measures. Words
alone will not save water.”

So it is that Denver Water pays its commercial and industrial customers $4,500
for every acre-foot of water they save, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority
pays residents and businesses alike $1 for every square foot of water-guzzling
turf they replace with water-wise landscaping. So it is the tiny water utility
in Concord, MA, is piloting weather-based irrigation controllers with residents
of million-dollar houses.

Not all incentives are rebate or hardware based. The EID offers its agricultural
customers free individualized irrigation prescriptions, and the City of North Miami
Beach provides consulting to multifamily apartment buildings and condominium
complexes. And because customer improvements that save water represent
depreciable assets, many are funded through an agency’s capital programs.
In Seattle, Gustav has an annual budget of $3.5 million and a combined
full- and part-time staff of eight. But money alone will not buy water. What’s
critical is to know the audience you’re trying to appeal to, be specific about
the behavior you want to encourage, and then get creative.

Creating an Illusion of One-on-One

With the goal of reducing water demand by 29,000 acre-feet by 2045, Denver
Water targeted its commercial and industrial users. “One of the reasons we
targeted the commercial and industrial side,” says conservation specialist
Chris Call, “is because most of what they do is permanent. It’s equipment
and process changes.” But Denver Water’s rates being what they are,
water typically has not been seen as a threat to a company’s bottom line.
To get an idea of what kind of changes it could expect from this segment
of its population and how these changes might be accomplished, the agency
conducted a series of focus groups among high-water users, typically in the
hospitality, health, and food and beverage–processing industries. The goal,
says Call, was to “get a feel” for what these companies knew about water
use in their business and how the agency could help them conserve. “We
wanted to know what kind of incentives would be required.” In all, the agency
held some 20 focus groups, sometimes conducting multiple meetings in a
particular industry.

What they discovered, says Call, was that many of the larger businesses were
already up to speed on water conservation but smaller companies needed help.
This led to strategies such as cooling tower rebates and a program that allows
businesses in the downtown area to tap into a chilled water system loop, saving
them from using their own cooling towers. To keep the heat on, this year the
agency has targeted 1,000 of the highest water users for one-on-one
individualized water counseling. The aim is to research each user’s historic
water use, make each aware of programs that might be appropriate to his or
her situation, and inform him or her when the utility spots anything out of
the ordinary. “We’re going to make a lot more companies aware of the
incentives we provide and how they can use them in their businesses,” says
Call. So far Call estimates the push to reach commercial and industrial
customers had netted over 600 acre-feet in water savings.

Denver Water has also applied an individualized approach to the
residential sector in its two-tiered water-wise gardening program. In the
city that invented xeriscape, the agency found that a prime barrier to
adopting water-wise gardening was customers lacked information on how
to proceed. To reduce this challenge it offers free workshops on Saturdays
during February through March, based on the principle “that people need to
know what’s available to them and how to use it.” Anyone who wants more
specialized information can sign up for a two-hour one-on-one planning session
with a landscape designer. Participants in the one-on-one sessions pay a fee,
but the cost of the program is underwritten by the utility. Call estimates water
savings from the seminars and design consultations at about 6 acre-feet per year.

Rolling Rocks Uphill

In Concord, MA, all Joanne Bissetta wants is 10 gallons a year per person per
day. The state has set per-capita consumption in the affluent town 25 miles
west of Boston at 65 gallons a day. Concord’s residents now gobble up 75
gallons a day. When the town began looking for ways to conserve, home
irrigation systems, a phenomenon that has gained momentum in the East
over the last five years, turned out to be the low-hanging fruit.

“We started offering customers audits of their irrigation systems, and what
we found was that nine times out of 10 people were overwatering or their
system was poorly designed or needed repair. If we get three weeks of hot,
dry weather in the summer, our wells are pumping nonstop, and in an area
that has problems with iron and manganese, this isn’t good for water quality.
The problem is that in an area like ours that gets 40 inches of rain a year,
conservation is a hard sell.”

Bissetta says Concord considers itself a socially responsible community
where residents do the right thing without being required to do so. Casting
around for an approach that would work with the town’s affluent residents,
she decided on a focus group of homeowners who were in the town’s top
10% of water users to get a better idea of who they were and how they
thought. One of the norms demonstrated within the group confirmed what
Bissetta effectively already knew, that Concord residents consider
themselves responsible and will voluntarily do the right thing. But it also
turned out that focus group members estimated they were using less water
than what town records showed.

“So we piloted a little outreach campaign,” says Bissetta, “based on the idea
that you can maintain your property and also be water efficient—it’s the
responsible thing to do.” But getting the message across looked like it might
be a challenge. Of this group of eight, only two did their own yardwork.
The others hired one or more contractors.

“We conducted a pilot program in a neighborhood of 30 households, of which
11 were in the town’s top 10% of water users. Because the focus group
revealed discrepancies between the amount of water residents thought they
were using and their actual use, we sent a direct mail letter encouraging them
to get a water audit. This was combined with a professionally designed
newsletter that included recommendations about how to reduce water use
on their property.” A second newsletter went out with a special cover letter
to the high-water users comparing their water use with their neighbors’ and
again urging them to arrange for an irrigation audit.

But because of the grant requirements the letters and newsletters were
sent out during the summer when many residents were out of town. Bissetta
made follow-up phone calls, but ended up mostly leaving messages on
answering machines. Another variable she feels might be complicating is
that the targeted neighborhood generally has poor soil and may require
more water for the kinds of landscapes residents have installed. “There may
be neighborhoods where this program will work,” says Bissetta, “but there
are so many variables with contractors and so forth.” So what’s the answer?
Bissetta is currently piloting different models of weather-based irrigation
controllers, offering them free to residents. “I sent letters to people offering
irrigation audits and didn’t get any response. Then I send them a letter—‘First
come, first served, get a free weather-based controller’—and they were
knocking down my door. But with all the variables we have to work with here,
including the fact that our high-water users are typically gone during the summer, weather-based controllers might be the easier way to address water use.”
Plan, Pilot, Survey
In Seattle concerns about population growth, a strong environmental ethic
that includes Native American rights and protection for the region’s wild salmon
population, and general concerns about the water supply loom large. “Our rivers,”
says Gustav, “are at their highest in the fall when the salmon spawn and we’re
waiting for the fall rains to refill our reservoirs. This creates some real
management challenges, and demand management is an important component
of how we deal with total water supply management.”

Liz Fikejs oversees a water-wise gardening program for Seattle Public Utilities,
which she says was given a boost when its core message was revised.
“For many years we have tried to draw people into changing their
behavior by appealing to their motivation for protecting the environment,”
says Fikejs. “In Seattle that’s a sound approach, but not enough. Eventually
we realized that residential landscapes are very personal reflections of their
owners. So we altered our approach to appeal to people’s aesthetic values.

“We did a fair bit of customer research among our highest water users.
During focus groups we discovered there were a lot of misconceptions
around aesthetics, particularly that a water-wise garden was an ugly garden,
full of cactus, which obviously doesn’t fit in the Northwest. So we developed
the tag line, ‘A better way to beautiful.’ To complement this message, we
created brochures that emphasize beauty. The other challenge is plant
selection. The sound byte we developed to get people to think about matching
plants to conditions in their gardens was also simple: ‘Right plant, right place.’”

Like Denver Water, SPU offers classes in water-wise gardening, but to
increase dissemination of its core messages, it has partnered with nurseries
and garden centers where staffs are encouraged to point customers to the
utility’s nature landscape guides and where it can offer classes as part of a
nursery’s overall education program. Fikejs has also reached out to local garden
writers who publicize SPU’s message (amend your soil, avoid pesticides, use
less water), inform the public about classes, and alert readers to the results
of utility-sponsored studies and research. Next up is an e-newsletter to
promote water-wise programs and a Web feature called “Garden Stories,”
which will feature before-and-after experiences of people who’ve installed
water-wise gardens, including recommendations for resources.

SPU is an integrated utility, which means that in addition to potable
water it provides drainage, wastewater, and solid waste services to its
customers. Gustav points out this offers opportunities for interesting overlaps.
One example is a program called Natural Yard Care Neighbors, which recruits
residents on a neighborhood level to workshops where they learn more about
natural yard care practices. The goal is that they will pass on the message
that this more natural approach requires less water, requires less fertilizer
and pesticides, and generates less organic waste. The workshops offer door
prizes that are coordinated with its message such as mulching lawnmowers,
soaker hoses, organic fertilizers, and irrigation timers. The utility has produced
a series of guides called “The Naturals,” which are available on its Web site.
Gustav thinks the success of public outreach programs depends on informed
planning. “Sometimes you can get tied up in how cute your campaigns are.
What we’re trying to do is to make things more scientific, especially getting a
better handle on identifying measurable effects of our behavior-change efforts.”
Like many utilities SPU has used focus groups to identify barriers to behavior
change. Its showerhead replacement campaign is a case in point. The utility
is joining forces with electrical utilities in its service region (whose aim is to cut
demand for gas and electricity) to replace outmoded low-flow showerheads with
a new 2.0-gallon-per-minute “beyond code” model. “We hope to get a third of
all our customers to accept the offer and install the shower head,” says Gustav.
“We’re been doing pilot testing in a couple of different water districts during the
last year to see if customers are responsive to this invitation and if we’re getting
the savings we anticipate. In a pilot we can test our assumptions, such as how
many households will elect to participate and what kind of savings we expect to
get. We can get very sophisticated about the savings we’ll obtain per household
by doing pre- and post-metering, and we can do a post survey to find if customers
are satisfied with the product and appreciate that the offer was made to them.
Typically we use a telephone survey, but we could also use a simple mail-back
card that asks the customer if they’ve installed the new showerhead and how
they like it.
“Back in 1993 we literally hung the invitations on doors, which is a pretty costly
undertaking. We’ve found that with the invitation-by-mail approach we can more
effectively target customers who are likely to really install the showerheads.
We’ve also found that a reminder card improves our participation rates.

“Corporations test their message and approach constantly. Utilities don’t
have these corporate funds, so it pays to invest a little money upfront in
order to give ourselves the best chance of succeeding when we do commit
large resources.”

“The way I look at it,” says Ken Kroski, public information officer at the City
of Phoenix’s Water Services Department, “a third of the people out there
understand the message. They get it; they look for it. A third you are never
going to reach because they’ve either got preconceived notions or they just
don’t agree with you. Our aim is to reach that third in the middle.”
Capitalizing on Differences
According to Kroski, Phoenix has achieved a 20% per-capita reduction in water
demand over the past 10 to 20 years but remains under pressure from the Arizona
Department of Water Resources to keep the gallons per day dropping. Kroski
thinks this will take what he calls a culture shift in attitudes about water,
and one way to accomplish this is to build conservation in whatever message
the agency puts out, from how to pay your bill to how water gets to the valley.

The City of Phoenix’s water outreach is a joint project of Kroski’s PR staff and
the utility’s water conservation department. According to Public Information
Specialist Mary Lu Nunley, the agency is about to embark on an enhanced
conservation techniques and programs campaign that will target high-water-use
areas of the city. The goal is to research factors that contribute to water
waste and design neighborhood-specific conservation strategies. “It’s not
going to be the same thing in every area,” says Nunley. “What works in a
primarily Hispanic area is not going to work in Encanto, which is heavily
landscaped,” says Nunley.

Phoenix already has used neighborhood-based water conservation programs
to reach low- and fixed-income communities where toilets and showerheads
are likely to be water-guzzling. The program is structured around hardware
retrofits rather than the rebates that are often typical for replacing outdated
appliances. “There are a number of different reasons we don’t do rebates
right now,” says Nunley. “One is that in many cases the people who get
the rebates would be changing their toilet or showerhead anyway. Another
is in these areas where you want to see the changes, many people don’t
have liquidity of income to be able to replace their toilet and then wait to
be reimbursed.”

Phoenix’s residential toilet retrofit program uses an outside contractor to
replace toilets and showerheads, repair minor leaks, evaluate the household’s
outside water use, and educate property owners on proper irrigation, advice
that is soon to be supplemented with videos on water-wise yard care. The
program operates in conjunction with a city-sponsored multi-department
effort to spruce up neglected neighborhoods. Once the neighborhood is
targeted, participation in the retrofit program is typically 50% to 60%. Word
of mouth helps. Nunley reports that people who might originally have been
reticent “see the truck and call.” The program is budgeted for $100,000
annually, and an outside study has confirmed that thus far it has achieved
water savings greater than the costs to keep it running.

Another targeted program Nunley is especially proud of is a landscaping
brochure developed for Spanish-speaking customers. “This illustrates our
goal of evaluating the audience and determining the best way to reach them.
It’s not enough just to translate a brochure that was designed for English
speakers into Spanish. You have to talk to them in a way that means something
to them. Your message and means of delivery must be culturally developed.”

To create a brochure on xeriscape and irrigation for Hispanic residents, the
department brought in residents, contractors who had immigrated from Mexico
but now own local businesses, and an instructor from the Desert Botanical
Gardens. “We explained to them what we wanted Spanish-speaking residents
to know,” says Nunley, “and then asked them what was the right way for us
to tell them. We ended up with a brochure that’s a calendar where we combine
tips for a particular month with dates that have cultural significance. We
used far less text than in the English language version and very large, colorful
photographs of plants that will appeal to this community because they’re
eye-appealing and bright. This is not a translation. We never intended for it
to be that. It is a culturally designed document.”
Appealing to the Masses
Next door in Nevada the Southern Nevada Water Authority, faced with the
effort of coordinating a region-wide wise-gardening effort, takes an approach
that is antithetical to suggestions of one-on-one. Its Water Smart

Landscaping Program encourages water customers to replace turf for $1
per square foot. Since the program’s inception in 1999, more than 67 million
square feet of lawn (enough to cover 35% of the earth’s circumference) have
been uprooted and replaced with water-smart landscaping for a savings of 8 billion
gallons of water. Last year, 5,210 residential and 525 commercial conversions
were completed
“How much water do we want to save with this program?” asks Conservation
Manager Doug Bennett. “As much as possible. So we keep it as simple as
possible. One piece of paper runs the program. You don’t have to go to a
class; nobody has to review your design. People have a million other things
to do, and anything an agency can do to make it simpler will help the
client and increase participation. The instructions are on the back of the
form. The customer fills out the front and sends it in.” Pre- and post-conversion
inspection site visits are mandatory. Otherwise customers are on their own to
select what they want or pick their own landscaper. (The authority works
with landscape contractors to inform them of the program’s goals.)

Bennett says the program itself generates publicity. “This is a contagious
process. Someone will do an attractive project and our staff will go back
to the same neighborhood and the house two doors over or across the
street will be changing their landscaping.” Bennett also says half the
applications come online. “We get a lot of efficiency out of our online
programs because customers get faster service. Our pool cover program
is a Web-based help-yourself coupon program. Rather than have customers
go to a pool supply store and buy a pool cover, fill out some sort of form,
mail it to us with a receipt, and have us process it and send back a check,
we work directly with vendors. Customers go online and answer our survey
questions about their pool and how they use it, and at the end an image of
a coupon pops up. They print it, take it to the store, and redeem it, and
the vendor sends the coupons to us and we write a single large check.

“We work with car washes in the same way. If they become a water-smart
car wash, meaning they capture their water so it can be recovered by the
community, and if they put out some of our water conservation promotion
items, we make coupons for their car wash available on the Web. The
customer gets a $2 discount, they don’t wash their car at home—which
we don’t want them to, with the water running down the street—and
he car wash gets business. The beauty of electronic communication is
people can open their e-mail whenever they want to. We don’t have to
communicate with them during business hours, which is important in this
town where people work all kinds of crazy shifts.”

El Dorado, CA, is rural. “The population is about 150,000, and generally we
have a very hands-on, person-to-person, face-to-face approach,” says
Deanne Kloepfer, head of the Strategic Management and Communications
Department at El Dorado Irrigation District. “We’re at the county fair;
we’re at the garden fair. In a place like this everyone goes to these kinds
of events, but in a place like this conservation as a message doesn’t go
over very well. So we talk about water efficiencies.” And because El Dorado
is rural there are efficiencies to be made in the farm community. EID’s
Irrigation Management Service program (IMS) began in the 1970s in
response to the Bureau of Reclamation’s demand that the district
implement water conservation policies. Today it provides the district’s
ag customers with individualized irrigation profiles for their properties.
According to Kirk Taylor, the district’s IMS coordinator, the system has
raised irrigation efficiency from below 50% to as high as 95% on some farms.

“When you talk efficiency,” says Taylor, “you’re talking about how much
water comes out of your irrigation device and how much actually gets into
the soil and can be usable to the plant. When you’re talking below 50%, it
means you have a lot of runoff or a lot of sprayed water that evaporates
before it hits the soil. Before this program most growers were on portable
sprinklers and their irrigation efficiency was well below 50%.”

The key to the program is a neutron probe that measures 313 sites in the
service area for soil moisture generating data that are managed in a
sophisticated computer program along with data from weather stations
run by the California Irrigation Management Information Service.

“When we first started the program,” says Taylor, “farmers were using
roughly 6 inches of water per irrigation. After they joined the program they
cut down to 4 inches. Before they joined they were irrigating about 10-day
circles. With us showing them they didn’t have to do that, they cut out two
irrigations a year, which means 1 acre-foot of water, and most have converted
from spray irrigation to microsystems.” The program currently has 90
participating growers and generates annual savings of 2,000 acre-feet.

“We’ve got 300 sites in different environments with different crops that
all have to be individually managed,” says Taylor. “Right now the district is
mailing half of the irrigation prescriptions and sending half by e-mail. Our
long-term goal is to reduce costs and still provide the same service to
growers. One thought is to provide them with limited access to this
information on our Web page. And we’d like to start investigating other
soil monitoring components.” Currently Taylor largely markets the program
himself, visiting growers, holding court in diners and coffee shops, and
attending farm bureau meetings. El Dorado being a rural county, he also
counts on news being from grower to grower, by word of mouth.

The Multifamily Challenge
Across the country in population-dense North Miami Beach, FL, a big
challenge is coaxing water efficiencies out of the 50% of the population
who live in multifamily buildings. “People who live in multifamily units,” says
Lloyd Hathcock, conservation coordinator for the city’s Public Services
Department, “don’t usually receive a water bill. Plus these buildings have
a high turnover rate. We found that out when we tried to capture mailing
addresses from multifamily units and had an incredible amount of returned
mail. Now we primarily get to these residents in two ways, first through
our annual water-quality report. We have made this a multipurpose document
and use it a lot like a water conservation brochure in which we include
conservation tips and information on the programs. We also have an entirely
separate program called Utility Neighborhood Outreach where we engage
condo associations and civic groups.

“Multifamily buildings have to be handled on an individual case basis. We’re
very flexible with apartment house property managers. For example, we
have an ongoing showerhead exchange program. If they want to distribute
the kits from their office, we supply them in bulk. If they’d rather not deal
with it, we use door hangers or post cards to alert residents to contact us.
The door hangers we produce are specifically designed for multifamily situations.
On the reverse side of the offer for the toilet kit, there’s a long list of
water conservation tips for people who live in apartments and condominiums.

“We also provide consultative services. I get at least two or three calls
a week from large condominium complexes wanting to know ways they can
reduce their water bills. I’ll meet with the manager or the association’s
engineer and do a kind of mini audit and come up with a list of recommendations.
I suggest, for example, that if they retrofit all their common areas with
flapper-less toilets and waterless urinals, they can expect to save x amount
of water. But I also remind them they’re going to save on operation and
maintenance because they’re not going to spend time unsticking stuck
valves and changing flappers.”

Hathcock points out that one of the challenges that thwarts demand reduction
in condominium complexes is that the individual units are privately owned
and management can’t go in and change out a toilet or replace a
showerhead as it could in an apartment building. To compensate for this
liability Hathcock attends association and board meetings. “It’s kind of
like a time share. The residents have to sit through listening to me preach
before they get all the good benefits. But this information is just as effective
as the hardware tools we provide. Our message to them is that although
they may not pay a water bill directly, they pay through their rent or
monthly maintenance fee. We explain to them that if they work collectively
to increase their water efficiency, it will impact the association’s budget.
Often a group of residents who already know the connection between the
master bill for the association or are up on maintenance fees will task the
manager or the board president to implement conservation strategies. We
had one complex that went so far as to secure a grant from the South
Florida Water Management District for a new hot water circulation system
so residents on the bottom floors weren’t flushing their taps of cold water
to get hot water that was being produced in boilers on the roof.”
Although Hathcock hasn’t targeted a specific demand reduction goal, he
estimates that the city’s multifamily efforts so far have produced about
10% savings among this segment of the population.

“Utilities are going to have to start demonstrating identifiable water savings,”
says Hathcock. “For conservation managers, it’s like heaven. But the important
thing to remember is that people can’t act unless they’re aware.”