Kamloops and Salmon Arm Educate Residents About Water Conservation

In an attempt to reduce overall water consumption and peak flows, many communities are encouraging residents to use water more efficiently. There are many ways to decrease water use in the home, and some people need to be taught these methods, while others need to be reminded of the importance of water conservation. Education for the residential sector is an important and effective part of any community’s water management plan.

A recent survey showed that a large percentage of the polled communities are using many common education tools to inform residents about water conservation. According to the survey, the media is used most often to get the messages out. This tool is used by more than 61 percent of respondents. Including information with billing statements is next at almost 59 percent, however, more than 22 percent of respondents indicated they were considering this method, which is far more than the nine percent considering using the media. Therefore, the inclusion of educational information with billing statements may become the most popular distribution method.

The survey also illustrated that using educational methods involving face-to-face communication was used far less often. This is interesting because some communities have found personal contact to be the most effective tool. Randi Derdall, Utilities Technician with the City of Kamloops, states, “I have read that research on persuasion shows that contact with other people has the most influence on our attitudes and behaviour. Whenever possible, we use personal communication to deliver the conservation message and to educate residents on how to conserve water.”

A key component in its education program is the Watersmart Bike Team. Every summer, university students are hired to bike through neighbourhoods and talk to the residents about water-use efficiency. They compliment and thank those who are utilizing good practices, and educate those who are using excess water or violating watering restrictions and bylaws. They also set up booths at community events, work with the media, and give presentations at schools.

The City of Kamloops continues their face-to-face education program by setting up a booth at a local home show. “There, we give away ‘tools’ such as leak detector tablets for toilets, and rain gauges to measure the amount of water used by sprinklers, and talk to as many residents as possible about ways to make their water use more efficient,” says Randi Derdall. “Face-to-face contact allows residents to ask questions and make comments as well, fostering a better understanding of the behaviour we are asking them to participate in.”

The survey showed that less than eleven percent of respondents used student representatives to conduct community education programs, yet they have been shown to be highly effective. The District of Salmon Arm is another community that uses this tool. Its Water Ambassador Patrol has proven to be very successful. It is an important part of its water conservation program. The District utilizes bike patrols that provide face-to-face contacts with residents. In addition to the opportunity to educate people, these contacts also allow residents to provide comments. The patrols helped to make the community significantly more aware of the program.

In addition to the bike patrols, the District of Salmon Arm uses mail-outs, media promotion, newsletters, and the distribution of rain sensors for irrigation systems to get its water conservation messages out. It intends to continue with this combination of education tools, however, the District believes in the importance of personal education. “Efficacy of the various tools will be monitored over a more extensive period; however, initial feed-back suggests that the Water Ambassador Patrol is creating the most impact on water users,” says Eugene Lalonde, Manager, Sustainable Shuswap.

With adequate funding and readily available information, the implementation of residential education programs is fairly easy according to Randi Derdall. “The hard part is in evaluating the success of these programs. For instance, will delivering water conservation education to elementary school students result in any measurable reduction in water consumption in their homes?” While it may be difficult to measure the effectiveness of individual education tools, the evidence points to the success of residential education. Randi Derdall continues, “In Kamloops, we have had a water conservation program for 12 years, and have reduced our peak day water demands by 24 percent on average, so the program has been a success.” They may later use tools such as pilot projects, focus groups, and surveys to measure the effectiveness of the different initiatives.

The City of Kamloops and the District of Salmon Arm have some recommendations to give to communities considering implementing a residential education program. Randi Derdall says, “Be specific about what you want people to do: for example, ‘set sprinklers so they don’t water sidewalks,’ rather than ‘prevent runoff.’ As much as possible, use personal (face-to-face) contact to deliver the message.” Eugene Lalonde concurs, “Face-to-face dialogue and eye-to-eye contact seem to singularly be the most results-effective and cost-effective strategy used in our community to date.” Regardless of the educational tools a community decides to use, one thing is certain, residential education is an effective way for a community to improve its water-use efficiency.