California Water Savings Dwindle When Drought Fears Subside

Public perception of drought risk influences how people use water resources. New research sheds light on how public awareness could shift behaviors toward long-term water conservation. Credit: bozhdb/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Policy changes and media attention affect how much water Californians use, as well as how long these behaviors prevail. Could public awareness shift behaviors toward long-term conservation?

California’s population has almost doubled over the past 4 decades, growing from 22 million people in 1976 to 40 million in 2016. During that time frame the state experienced four major droughts, including the driest period on historical record, from 2012 to 2016. Now a new study examines how the public perception of water scarcity affects Californians’ urban residential water consumption.

Although awareness of drought does reduce water use, that effect largely disappears once the perception of crisis fades unless more prevalent policies and messaging kick in to counteract the fading memories, the authors found. The study suggests that sustained attention from the media and policy makers is key to long-term water conservation. California has seen a steady overall decline in per capita urban water use over the past 2 decades. This decline rapidly accelerated in 2015 because of Governor Jerry Brown’s mandate to collectively achieve a 25% reduction in water use from 2013 rates, with exact cutbacks varying among different utilities.

But water […]

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California Water Savings Dwindle When Drought Fears Subside
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California Water Savings Dwindle When Drought Fears Subside
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Awareness of drought reduces water use, but that effect largely disappears once the perception of crisis fades unless more prevalent policies and messaging kick in to counteract the fading memories. The study suggests sustained attention from media and policy makers is key to long-term water conservation.
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