For decades, water utilities have operated as the primary accountability holders in the purveyor/consumer relationship. Try as we may, motivating water consumers to take a consistent and proactive stance on personal water management has been extremely difficult. The “carrot” of rebates and “stick” of punitive rates and penalties have nearly run their course in yielding results.

This approach has, of course, been helpful in managing the scarcity of the world’s most precious resource — especially in California. However, now that the finite quantity of this resource is becoming ever clearer, that control brings with it a level of responsibility never seen before…and for which many such purveyors may not actually be ready. The problem is, the need for greater engagement and conservation has increased, and will continue to do so in the coming decade. 

New Legislation Moves the Goalpost

The two most recent pieces of related legislation—California Assembly Bill No. 1668, and California Senate Bill No. 606, which both deal with water management planning, and were adopted into law at the end of May, 2018—contain language regarding measurability of effectiveness, and deadlines by which objectives must be met.

Bolstering former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 20×2020 law, the newer bills require the State Water Resources Control Board—in coordination with the Department of Water Resources—to adopt and codify long-term standards for the efficient use of water. They also contain performance measures for commercial, industrial, and institutional water use on or before January, 2024. That’s less than two years away.

Many water-purveying municipalities and water agencies are realizing that meeting those mandates could become nearly impossible—without greater engagement and participation of their customers.

Until now, most consumers have held the attitude that if their toilets flush and their water rates are cheap, that’s good enough. But we know that reality says otherwise. Despite the fact that many agencies have had success with the carrot-and-stick paradigm motivating customers to reach the previously mandated reduction in usage, the new mandates are more stringent and include—for the first time—indoor water use standards.

Water purveyors simply won’t be able to meet these new mandates without significant engagement and ongoing participation from consumers who, up to this point, haven’t felt empowered to truly manage their water usage proactively, i.e. beyond installation of rebate equipment or hindsight from a past billing cycle. Hence, consumers have felt they have exhausted the tools at their disposal and remain in a somewhat passive stance on conservation.

How Things Are vs. How They Should Be

How did things get this way?

It’s pretty straightforward, really: We’ve largely been using an old paradigm. We’re just not going to be able to rebate or “fine” our way into compliance. We need tools that will empower consumers both to understand their critical partnership in water conservation, as well as to take action in personal water management. Without such understanding, consumers:

  1. simply won’t grasp the enormity of the challenge
  2. will be too removed from the data to understand how their behavior and choices can drastically alter the outcome, and
  3. won’t feel as though they, personally, “have any skin in the game,” because they don’t have any meaningful control over the situation.

Our next post will address what we can do together to overcome this issue…because we must.