Awareness of consumption

In a world where there’s no guarantee that rivers will reach the ocean, inland seas are drying up, and years-long droughts are causing faucets to spit out air instead of water, scientists, municipalities, and individual citizens are recognizing the importance of conserving water by reducing how much we use in the first place.

(Although reducing domestic water use is important, in-home water use is only a drop in the bucket – it represents only one percent of the total water used in the U.S. in 2010. Still, that one percent was a lot of water: 3.6 billion gallons per day.)

New research, conducted in Australia and recently published in the journal Water Resources Research, suggests that one way to get people to use less water is to simply show them how much they’re using, in real-time, by installing water meter display units in their homes.

Working in a suburb of Sydney, researchers compared water use in households that had display units installed in their homes for one year to households that did not. Prior to the installation, the two groups used equal amounts of water; afterward, the homes with display units used 6.8% less water than the homes without, and that difference was maintained even after the display units were removed from the homes.

As the scientists write, “[t]his behavioral change was motivated through the in-home displays and their capacity to raise occupants’ awareness of consumption associated with individual activities.” They also acknowledge that a “willingness to reduce consumption is required,” and it appears that participants in the study, who “initiated [their own] involvement in the trial,” may have been a self-selecting group of people who presumably may have had a greater willingness to save water than the general population.

Even so, technologies that help us reduce the amount of water we use are valuable. Something as simple as a unit that makes us aware of how much water we’re using when we jump in the shower or give the dog a bath can help us conserve the freshwater resources we have, and perhaps help keep our rivers flowing to the ocean.

The leading edge of the Colorado River in 2009, five miles short of the ocean. 

(Image by Pete McBride via U.S. Geological Survey)