UC Riverside researchers to evaluate motivation behind residential water conservation
Two environmental economists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have been awarded a $184,000 grant by the Moulton Niguel Water District (MNWD) to evaluate what motivates homeowners to reduce water use, and which conservation programs are most cost-effective.
Researchers Kurt Schwabe and Ken Baerenklau – both associate professors of environmental economics and policy in the UCR School of Public Policy – will identify agency, household, environmental and community-level factors that influence water-conservation decisions and outcomes among single-family residential households in the Orange County water district.
MNWD was formed in 1960 and provides water, recycled water and wastewater service to approximately 170,000 people in the cities of Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo and Dana Point.
“Developing effective water conservation strategies requires information on past, current and anticipated future household-level decisions regarding water conservation,” the researchers said. “It also requires an understanding of how agency programs and customer actions interact with one another, with current and future potential pricing and rebate policies, and with characteristics of residential households and their surrounding social, demographic, and physical environment.”
The two-year study, “Analysis of Water Conservation Drivers for Effective Water Management,” will focus on current district incentives to conserve water such as turf removal, installation of synthetic turf, and purchase of high-efficiency/front-load washers and high-efficiency/low-flow toilets.
“Given widespread interest in encouraging households to replace turf grass, and knowing that turf grass programs so far have experienced low participation rates, an integral part of this study will focus on the economics and water savings associated with turf removal,” Schwabe said.
The team will analyze current and historical water use and conservation data, survey MNWD customers about their attitudes toward conservation programs and adoption of conservation technologies, and assess how different conservation programs influence water conservation practices. The researchers also will determine the amount of water saved through these programs compared to voluntary conservation without these incentives, and will compare conservation program revenue effects and operating costs.
“Many customers may decide to conserve water independently of district conservation programs,” Baerenklau said. “This research differentiates between these two decisions and will identify the effectiveness of each on household-level water savings and expenditures.”
The study is expected to be completed in March 2017.