Water supplies are not endless ... try telling this to the average consumer. Most of us would roll our eyes in criticism if we were to observe a simple daily routine such as someone brushing their teeth while water falls freely from the tap. The reality, however, is that just about anyone is guilty of this practice in some manner, even those of us who live in areas where lawn-watering restrictions are standard.
Don’t get me wrong; the general public knows that water conservation is important. They see at least one news report or advertisement per day about water quality in the third world, or reducing water waste and usage. They love to reference random statistics, such as using a running hose to wash your car can waste about 105 gal of water, while using a bucket with a sponge plus a trigger nozzle will use a mere 26 gal. Entire websites are dedicated to water conservation tips in the kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, outdoors, etc.
The public understands that everyone can play a part, at home, at work or in the community, to protect and to conserve water for future generations. Yet, somehow there seems to be a disconnect between preaching and practicing. So how do we “connect the drops?”
Effective conservation measures should be a joint effort between water suppliers and the general public. These efforts cannot be successful without encompassing water metering, leak detection, conservation pricing/water rates, water reuse and consumer education practices.
Source and service metering is key to any successful water-efficiency program. Metering provides water suppliers the data of existing service connections. It helps determine leakage and offers effective management of important resources.
Water rate structure plays a very important role in water conservation as well. The truth of the matter is that consumers will always respond to price. While most consumers are not supportive of paying higher water prices, and ultimately consider water as a right, higher water bills will result in lower water consumption.
Water rates should not be mismanaged. Water suppliers should not price themselves out of existence and gauge their customers in the process; however, rate structures based on a certain time period, season or amount of water used can encourage customers to use water efficiently.
Water reclamation and reuse practices at the consumer level are also an important component of wise water management. Consumers should be made aware that if handled carefully, grey water can be used in place of freshwater in subsurface irrigation systems. Rainwater collection is an easy and effective alternative to turning on the hose.
Finally, customer involvement and education are essential steps to the success of any conservation program. While effective water conservation begins with the water providers, it ultimately ends with the consumers. Educating them on how to pay attention to their water use and changing those water-wasting habits does make a difference.