Summer of outdoor water restrictions – do these measures work to save water?

If you live in a particularly moist area, you may not even know that many cities introduce water use restrictions in summer. Motivation is twofold. On one hand, cities are trying to save more water in case of a draught. On the other hand, an increased demand for water often wears out the infrastructure. But do these water restrictions work? Scientists from  the University of Waterloo say sometimes.

Many cities around the world are limiting the water usage during the hottest months of the year. Image credit: juantiagues via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The goal of water use restrictions is to avoid spikes in water demand. These spikes may exhaust the resources, leaving some people without the water supply. It is more relevant for the periods of drought, but as the climate is changing the frequency of these periods is likely to increase. These spikes may also result in significant leakages and outbursts, destroying the infrastructure, again leaving many people without a reliable water supply. Therefore, municipalities all over the world are asking people to not water their lawns or use pools in the hottest parts of the year.

However, can you really ask people to save water during hot months? Will they listen?

Scientists analyzed more than a decade of data from 10 mid-sized Canadian cities. Some restrictions were very strict – just 6 hours of permitted watering a week. Others were a bit more lose – 42 hours of watering per week. Do these restrictions work? No – scientists found that they had surprisingly little effect on average summer water use. The average water demand in summer remained three times as high as it is in winter. People need water and that’s all.

However, these policies do help reducing the peaks, which is kind of the goal anyway. This allows saving some water while also preserving the infrastructure. Even if the average water consumption is hardly affected at all by those policies. Scientists also found that in some cases people are more likely to follow those water restriction orders. Specifically, they do so when they can see the drought happening. Nandita Basu, one of the scientists in this study, said: “The existence of a visible drought, coupled with restriction reminders issued by cities when water levels are low, is likely what makes people take action. At other times in the summer, they don’t really change their behaviour.” Of course, the problem is that those restrictions come in exactly when people want to enjoy a green lawn and a full swimming pool.

Droughts are likely to be more common in the near future and everyone should be concerned about that. Water is one of those resources that we cannot live without. Droughts may be a minor inconvenience for you, but for farmers they are absolutely brutal. And you depend on the farmers heavily. Although cities and farmers rarely share the same water supply, it may be a good idea to avoid wasting water in summer just out of respect for those who need water the most. 


Source: University of Waterloo

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