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Study finds signs create a greater sense of environmental stewardship that could help reduce water consumption.

By Klaus Reichardt

According to a June 17, 2018 report in Al Jazeera, India is facing its worst-ever water crisis. The report, written by Zeenat Saberin, says that about 600 million people living in India are facing “high to extreme stress over water.” The author cites a study, published by Composite Water Resources Management, an Indian think tank that warns if this continues, conflicts and related threats are right around the corner.

“Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40 percent of our water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates,” the report said. Further, Mridula Ramesh, author of books on climate change and its impact on India, told Al Jazeera that, “there are few or no restrictions on groundwater extraction (in India), leading to wasteful water consumption. In agriculture, crop choice that is unsuitable for a given region is one example of this.”

It appears that greater awareness of India’s water situation could be one step in reducing consumption. This was one of the goals of an experiment conducted in the US state of Florida by Florida Atlantic University (FAU), where most people in suburban areas have the lawns that are watered frequently, rain or shine. Making people more aware of their water consumption might encourage them to use water more efficiently, helping to reduce consumption. While the study involved residences, the researchers also believed that it could have ramifications for commercial and industrial facilities with lawns and other vegetation areas as well.

Before we discuss the study, we need to know a bit more about lawns found not only in Florida but in suburban areas around the world. The average lawn in the U.S. is 2,500 square feet. It takes, on average, 12,500 gallons of water every month to water that lawn. That totals over 150,000 gallons of water each year just to irrigate one lawn. If there are 20 houses on a block, all with the same sized lawn and watered just as frequently, this means that just this one block of houses use more than 3,000,000 gallons of water per year just for lawn irrigation.

As we can see, this quickly becomes a massive volume of water. This is why many areas of Florida, just as in similar communities around the world, have implemented day and time water restrictions. These restrictions tell homeowners on what days and at what times they can irrigate their lawns. According to Florida water officials, however, the limits are making no more than a dent in water consumption, far less than what was hoped for. This is why they turned to FAU for help.

The Experiment
FAU selected a residential community and put together a program referred to as “The Rain-Watered Lawn” program. The goal was to determine if weather-based water conservation strategies were more effective than the day/time water restrictions currently in place.

The test included 627 households divided into two groups: 321 households were designated the experimental group and 306 the control group. The control group continued to observe the water restrictions in place but made no other changes in their lawn irrigation habits.

What the researchers did was rather simple. Throughout the experimental neighborhoods, they placed road signs. The road signs would change regularly, indicating how much rainfall had occurred in the past seven days; remind homeowners that most Florida lawns only needed to be irritated about once per week, and would include the following message at the bottom of the sign: “Is rainfall alone meeting the water needs of your lawn?”

The researchers also sent out postcards to the experimental group, just to make sure they understood the information on the signs.

After several weeks, the researchers started gathering data. What they found was that in the summer months, when this region of Florida received the most water, there was, what was termed, an “astonishing” 61 percent decrease in lawn watering in the experimental group, saving millions of gallons of water per week. But there were no such changes in the control group.

Further, the experimental group continued to use about 41 percent less water than the control group even after the test period. This indicated that a water conservation pattern had developed. Instead of day/time water restrictions, the control group paid closer attention to the weather and then determined if their lawns needed irrigation.

The Bigger Picture
The researchers suggested that their findings could have more significant ramifications than might initially be realized. “This program has the added benefit of getting people more in tune with the natural water cycle, which might help (water users) prepare for changes in water supply and water policy,” said Ata Sarajedini, Ph.D., Dean of FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science.

Does this mean we could post similar signs in, for instance, roads around residential neighborhoods as well as industrial and commercial facilities, updating facility managers on water conditions and urging them to use water more efficiently and only as needed?

The researchers believe the answer is yes. They say the signs created “a greater sense of environmental stewardship that could be tied to everyday activities,” all of which could help reduce water consumption in industrial and commercial locations, potentially decreasing water consumption considerably.

About the Author
A frequent speaker and author on water conservation issues, Klaus Reichardt, is Founder and CEO of Waterless Co. Inc., based in Vista, Calif, USA.

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