With fresh water supplies increasingly threatened by drought and climate change, there is greater focus on water conservation and efforts to reduce water wastage. Considering that both air temperature and population figures are expected to rise in the future, the need to conserve water becomes even more pressing.
A recent survey of Florida homeowners revealed that on average, around 64% of fresh water supplied to homes was used to irrigate gardens and lawns, increasing to 88% during the hot, dry summer months. While homeowners understand the need to conserve water and want to comply with government imposed water restrictions that limit water usage for irrigation, they are pressured by Home Owners Associations (HOAs) that require them to have neat, green lawns or face penalties for non-compliance.
For the study, which was recently published in a special issue of the journal Technology and Innovation that focuses on the challenges posed to fresh water supplies by both environmental change and a rising human population, scientists from the University of Florida assessed the water conservation awareness and water saving practices of Florida homeowners living in Orange County who made use of automatic watering systems. This involved interviews and discussions with homeowners who where questioned on their lawn watering habits and current water conservation practices.
According to lead author, Liz Felter, the study aimed to assess the perceptions of homeowners who used automated irrigation systems with regard to measures that could be implemented to reduce water used to maintain their lawns. The study also examined the role that 'social marketing' played in encouraging people to conserve water; obstacles that people faced when trying to conserve water; and the role peer pressure could play in successful rolling out a water conservation strategy.
Upon evaluating the obstacles to water conservation, several themes emerged from discussions with the participants.
"One of the major themes to emerge from the focus groups was a lack of knowledge on how to care for the grass," explained Felter. "Some sub-themes included confusion about watering restriction days, an inability to use the timer correctly, and pressure from the HOA to water excessively to achieve perfect grass."
Upon evaluating standard water use practices, a major theme that emerged was that homeowners desired to abide by regulatory water restrictions, but this was countered by their desire to avoid being penalized by their respective HOAs for having poorly maintained lawns.
The study concludes that the largest obstacle to water conservation is pressure exerted by HOAs on homeowners to have "perfect" lawns, which can only be attained by excessive watering, and that this is a barrier that needs to be addressed.
The authors point out that, "even with the proper information and the ability to perform the new skills needed to reduce their water use, participants were concerned about repercussions from the HOA."
In response to these conflicting ideals, the authors recommend that state officials responsible for imposing water restrictions meet with representatives from HOAs to discuss and plan future water requirements and usage. They also recommend community-based social marketing to encourage homeowners to save water.
Liz Felter, Tracy Irani, Paul Monaghan, Hannah Carter, Michael Dukes. IT’S GOING TO TAKE MORE INNOVATION THAN TECHNOLOGY TO INCREASE WATER CONSERVATION PRACTICES. Technology & Innovation, 2015; 17 (1): 5 DOI: 10.3727/194982415X14349917064757