I live in a Minneapolis condo and not long ago received a plea from the board of the association to conserve water. The building’s water bill had risen because somehow residents were consuming more. If people don’t reduce their use, we’ll be paying a little more in monthly fees.
The problem is I have no idea how much water my wife and I use or how our use compares to our neighbors. Other utilities — electricity, natural gas, cable, phone — we get a bill for. If the monthly statement goes too high, I can drop cable or turn down the thermostat. But for water, there’s one meter for all 59 homes and we all pay our proportionate share, no matter how much or little we use.
Not very conducive to encouraging conservation, is it? Hence, the sixth question in our water Q&A series. Even without knowing what your neighbors are doing, here’s a U.S. Geological Survey guide to how much water it takes people to get through the day.
FROM THE PUBLIC INSIGHT NETWORK: Would it help conservation efforts if residents could easily compare their water use with that of their neighbors or with those of their city and the state?
The answer is YES! Studies have shown that this approach can be very effective in changing behaviors. People do care how they compare to their neighbors. There are some challenges when it comes to water usage however. Family sizes vary, lot sizes vary, cultural norms vary, all of these can have a big impact on water needs per household; so it should be considered carefully. For example, one neighbor may have a large lot and a large family, living next to a small lot small family. Providing usage per household comparisons could give some counterproductive feedback. So this approach can have some positive benefits, but any program would need to be developed carefully to avoid delivering inaccurate or unfair comparisons.
I believe studies have shown that this type of information is very valuable in helping people make informed choices and recognize how their use compares over time or with others in similar use categories or in their area. We would encourage communities to model water use awareness in the same way as energy utility bills, where people track themselves vs. average or another target as an effective means of conservation. Well established and progressive water utilities have collected and shared this type of information, however not all utilities are prepared to capture and share this type of information without upgrades to their monitoring and information outreach systems.