Griffin Smith (MCP2) spent the summer in Salt Lake City, Utah, working with the Environmental Dispute Resolution Program in the S.J. Quinney College of Law – University of Utah and the Environmental Planning Center at the The University of Utah. He mediated consensus-building efforts in underserved areas in the Mountain West. In particular, he focused on a rural Utahan community, helping it develop a regional plan, incorporate climate change projections into its efforts, and develop resiliency against other emerging challenges. As part of this, he supported community conversations about climate risks facing the vulnerable region around Zion National Park and piloted and tested climate communication methods. He also researched affordable housing policies for such gateway and amenity communities. He turned this work into a teaching roleplay for students learning about collaboration. In addition, he created a framework for a state civility initiative to restore and build civil politics and discourse in the state. Griffin’s work this summer builds off his previous work mediating conflicts at the Consensus Building Institute and studying public and environmental policy at MIT.
Municipal water agencies find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation. In many jurisdictions, water supply and infrastructure are reaching their limits as both population and demand for fresh water continue to grow. Conservation is an obvious goal for water agencies, and many have begun to experiment with innovative ways to address growing water consumption.
Zach Youngerman (MCP ’13) catalogues these efforts and assesses their impacts. He combines water conservation policy tools into three categories: regulatory approaches which restrict the allowable uses of water, particularly in times of drought; financial approaches that use price signals to reduce demand; and community-based social marketing approaches that encourage the adoption of new norms and behaviors to save water.
Zach finds that regulatory approaches can work reasonably well for water conservation, but have minimal or negative effects for reduced stormwater use. Similarly, incentives and pricing signals have been an effective—if somewhat adversarial—means of achieving conservation in some cases, through the inability to meter stormwater use can make their application difficult. Social marketing approaches—such as encouraging the use of rain barrels or an advertising a lawn care aesthetic rooted in more natural landscaping—seem to have been highly effective, though water bureaus must overcome entrenched norms about water use and have encountered many obstacles in the course of conducting a campaign.
In practice, water bureaus often employ a variety of these three approaches in encouraging water conservation, and Zach offers a set of best practices for agencies to consider for each. Read about these recommendations in Zach’s thesis, and share your own thoughts on successful strategies to encourage conservation below!