Communicators play key role in encouraging water conservation, efficiency
With drought conditions persisting throughout much of California, public sector communicators continue to play an essential role in motivating communities to conserve water; as well as educating them in ways to adapt water efficient habits that will last through both dry and wet years.
The state is currently asking Californians to reduce water use by 15% compared to 2020 usage, a goal set by Gov. Gavin Newsom last summer as the drought grew more severe. However, many areas of the state are struggling to meet this goal which makes it imperative that communicators within water agencies, cities and counties continue to encourage water conservation, and educate the public on preventing water waste. Education through consistent messaging, helpful tips and promotion of rebate and incentive programs are key to creating behavioral change.
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) encourages its public water agency members to share information not only with community residents or utility customers, but with state policymakers and news media. Sharing information and collaborating with other government entities in your region is also helpful for ensuring a consistent message to residents.
Research has revealed public acceptance for conservation messaging. ACWA collaborated last year with the state’s Save Our Water campaign to conduct statewide polling on conservation and water efficiency attitudes and behaviors. Some highlights from that poll that might help shape your messaging are:
- Respondents reacted positively to messages that reinforce the connection between actions today helping future generations, our children and grandchildren.
- Residents are willing to make behavioral and physical changes to conserve and be more efficient, but they want to know their government is investing in long-term resiliency for the future of water.
- Residents responded well to themes of community and fairness, such as “shared responsibility” and “being in this together.”
- 74% of respondents aged 18-49 said they can do more to be water efficient.
Upcoming Messaging Opportunities
Each month, the State Water Resources Control Board receives an update on statewide progress at achieving the governor’s 15% conservation goal. These reports have resulted in media coverage, especially in areas of the state that aren’t meeting the conservation target.
The next update is scheduled to be announced at the State Water Board’s Feb. 1 meeting, creating an opportunity for water purveyors to reach out to media and provide critical context behind the figures. In many cases, customers’ water reduction figures are impressive when compared to the previous drought of 2012-2016. It’s also an opportunity to emphasize special efforts to help customers conserve, including rebate programs and education campaigns.
Also on Feb. 1, the Department of Water Resources will conduct its second snow survey of the year, which consistently attracts local, statewide and even national media coverage. For communicators, this presents another opportunity to share local investments in drought resiliency and the critical need for increased state and federal investments in improving water infrastructure.
You don’t have to start from scratch in customizing a communications campaign for your community. The following are some resources available online. I also encourage you to reach out to neighboring water agencies, cities and other potential partners to coordinate local messaging and share resources.
- ACWA’s webpage www.acwa.com/drought has links to drought resources, including state issued proclamations and regulations, snow survey results and member agency articles about drought response and resiliency efforts.
- ACWA has developed a number of drought-related resources to help member agencies communicate with the media, policymakers and customers. Some of these resources are only available to staff at ACWA member agencies. Check ACWA’s website to determine whether your agency, city or county is a member.
- Drought talking points
- Agriculture-related talking points
- A recorded webinar on drought messaging featuring representatives from the California Water Efficiency Partnership and California Farm Water Coalition, who share lessons learned from the previous drought and how urban and agricultural agencies can best communicate to their customers and stakeholders about drought.
- An “Increasing Climate Resiliency” handout for use with customers
Save Our Water:
- The Department of Water Resources’ Save Our Water campaign has created a number of customizable communications toolkits in English and Spanish, available online for government agencies and businesses to download. The tools include press materials, social media content, graphics, videos and a new logo.
Heather Engel is the Director of Communications for the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA). She can be reached at HeatherE@acwa.com.