Do Water Restrictions Effectively Mitigate Droughts?

The changing climate is raising concerns about local water supplies. While some regions deal with heavy rainfall and flooding, others must endure chronic drought conditions. Water restrictions are one of the first responses to a dry season. It makes sense that limiting per capita water use would stretch the water supply. However, recent research by the Alliance for Water Efficiency has raised questions about the efficacy of standard water restriction strategies.

Seasonal and Chronic Drought

In North America, the summer months often bring water shortages. Sunny days bring lower precipitation levels and higher municipal water use. Homeowners who want to maintain green lawns water them frequently, and gallons pour into swimming pools to help people stay cool.

In some parts of the country, a short rainy season leads to chronic drought conditions. Water utilities must pay careful attention to the water supply. Residents rarely see any relief from drought restrictions. Determining the most effective water conservation strategies is critical in these areas.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency looked at studies from several parts of the country. They wanted to determine if water restrictions were an effective tool for maintaining the water supply during shortages. They found that year-round restrictions tended to be less successful than seasonal strategies. If regulations are in place for too long, customers are liable to become restriction-fatigued. Conservation messages lose their ability to change habits.

However, conservation messaging and practices that last through the worst of the drought season tended to spark change among residents. They were more willing to conserve water when they knew that the restrictions would lift.

Seasonal restrictions also spur changes that lasted beyond the formal restriction period. For example, residents that install drought-free irrigation systems for their lawns and gardens will continue to use this efficient equipment at other times of the year. Installing low-flow toilets and other efficient plumbing fixtures also has a year-round benefit.

Effective Conservation Strategies

Municipalities trying to conserve water must use an arsenal of conservation tactics to promote behavior changes. Calling for voluntary restrictions can be a helpful way of introducing an upcoming drought season. However, voluntary measures tend to be the least effective. Most people will not change their water use habits if given a choice.

Clear messaging must be part of the water restriction strategy. Residents need to know when measures go in and out of effect. They must also have clarity about municipal expectations. Residents are more likely to follow the rules if the message is concrete.

As shortages become more severe, mandatory drought restrictions will come into play. These include practices such as watering lawns every other day and per capita restrictions. The compulsory level is where seasonal strategies have an advantage over year-round strategies. People are willing to endure the inconvenience for a limited time.

Some of the most effective water conservation strategies are those that affect residents in their wallets. The ability to assess drought surcharges provides greater authority to conservation messaging. When breaking the rules costs money, people pay more attention. 

Some municipalities are experimenting with financial incentives for water conservation efforts. Rather than punishing people for exceeding their water allotment, they reward those who use less water than allowed. Other incentives include rebates for upgrading to more efficient plumbing fixtures or drought-free irrigation equipment.

SCADA and Municipal Water Management

In regions prone to drought, monitoring municipal water use is necessary. At High Tide Technologies, we specialize in SCADA systems that provide real-time information about municipal water distribution networks. A well-monitored system lets utilities in sensitive areas prevent water loss through leakage by improving maintenance and addressing problems quickly. When municipalities design their systems for water conservation, it makes it easier for residents to do their part. Contact us today for more information about the benefits of a cloud-based SCADA system.

Image used courtesy of MPJ Plumbing Group.