Conservation Corner: What gives in affluent Kelowna neighbourhood?
In the summer 2005 issue of BCWWA’s Watermark, I mentioned a test being conducted in an upscale Kelowna neighbourhood. We included bar charts on water bills showing homeowners’ monthly consumption compared to the average monthly consumption on their street.
This area was chosen because we’d tried several methods of public education in the past, but the water conservation message hadn’t gotten through. Irrigation in this hilly area remains so excessive that water percolates through the ground and floods the basements of lower laying homes.
Consumption is high not just because the people living there are wealthy and can afford the bills; there are many upscale neighbourhoods in the city where people do respond to public education and have reduced their water consumption significantly. So this was my proposition: because people inherently want to do the right thing, I believed customers would take significant steps to reduce their water consumption if they just knew they used four times more water than their neighbours!
I’d like to say the bar charts worked like a charm, but then my nose might start growing like Pinocchio’s whenever he told a lie. We sent 90 such bills in July, August, and September—270 in all. From that, we received just one phone call. Worse, comparative meter data showed that none of the customers who received such information reduced their water consumption by a single drop!
What gives? We knew going into the test that the current cost of water was not really an issue in the area, but we felt that customers might be embarrassed into reducing their consumption. I was very surprised when this strategy didn’t work. Even more surprising were the results of a survey we took after the test was over. Ninety-six percent of respondents said they noticed the graphs, and 57 percent said they took major steps to reduce their water consumption as a result of the information on the graphs. We know this is not true, so I imagine there were several growing noses as the customers filled out their surveys.
I don’t mean to imply that this kind of approach never works. Prior to implementing a user-pay rate in 1998, Kelowna sent a year’s worth of mock bills to its customers. This was one of the most effective public education efforts we ever undertook. Consumption started dropping all over the city, even before the user pay rate was implemented!
By Neal Klassen, BCWWA “Watermark” contributor
Posted January 2006
Originally published in the Winter 2005-06 issue of Watermark Magazine, the official publication of the British Columbia Water & Waste Association (BCWWA).
For more information contact Neal Klassen at firstname.lastname@example.org.