Water Conservation Education

In many areas of B.C., water consumption by the agricultural and ICI (industrial, commercial, institutional) sectors represents a significant percentage of the total water use. In some areas, the irrigation of agricultural lands accounts for most of the water supplied by the local utilities. For this reason, the implementation of water conservation initiatives is essential for these sectors. To ensure large-scale acceptance and participation in water conservation programs, these water users must be educated as to why conservation is important, and how it can be done.

According to a recent survey, utilities seem to implement education programs for residential water customers far more often than for those in the agricultural and ICI sectors. In addition, fewer methods are used to educate these customers. The survey revealed that of those communities that responded, only 32 to 38 percent used the top three education tools. The numbers for other commonly used education tools were even lower. This is in contrast to a 53 to 61 percent usage of the top three education tools for residential customers.

If reducing agricultural and ICI water use is so important, then why are these groups not being targeted by more local utilities? The survey provided insights into some of the problems involved in these types of education programs. It asked respondents to indicate what challenges or barriers stood in the way of the full implementation of education programs for these customers. Some cited funding as a major barrier; others indicated a lack of interest in the issue; and others stated, “water is too cheap,” which reduces the incentive to participate in any conservation plans.

The survey revealed that political factors were a major challenge or barrier. It seems political will (or unwillingness) was a major stumbling block for a number of communities. One comment made was that the “water board is elected by people most interested in water, such as orchardists.” Another community noted that there is “a resistance from the agricultural community to have a local government have any influence over agricultural lands.”

The survey respondents suggested the three levels of government (federal, provincial, and regional) could help them more effectively use education tools for the agricultural and ICI sectors. The most commonly given suggestion was for all levels of government to supply more financial resources that could be used to fund education programs. Another suggestion was that governments establish legislation that would increase the effectiveness of these programs. The provision of education and expertise was also asked of the governments.

The utilities also requested that others help with these education programs. Those in the private sector can help by becoming stewards in the community. Since education about water conservation can come from literally anyone who is concerned with the issue, all members of a community can influence those in the agricultural and ICI sectors. Professional associations can help by working with its members to initiate the operational changes necessary to conserve water. Those who are working within these sectors can also help, by educated their counterparts on how their respective operations can be run utilizing a higher level of water-use efficiency.

Some communities that have utilized education tools to reduce water use in their agricultural and ICI sectors have had good results. In some cases, the resulting decrease in water demand was significant. Some suggestions given include: educating growers about how to use less water; conducting assessments on ICI facilities for water conservation; and utilizing water meters for agricultural and ICI customers. Information distributed with billing statements, mail outs, and websites were the most recommended education tools. There definitely are a number of success stories that resulted from agricultural and ICI education programs, therefore they are well worth initiating.