Blog Archives

Use Only What You Need: Strategies for Water and Stormwater Conservation

BusBench_imgMunicipal 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!

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Why Don’t More Cities Act Like Philadelphia?

Managing stormwater is tricky business in urban areas, where paved roads, rooftops, and parking lots keep water above ground rather than letting it soak naturally into soils, grasses, and other vegetation. Rain and snow runoff must be caught, channeled, and eventually discarded in “gray” infrastructure, such as curbs, gutters, storm drains, and sewers. All this effort and expense seems so unnecessary, when there are green ways to capture and use the water rather than funnel it away.

Photo credit: Marissa Huber

But gray infrastructure has been the standard for so long that policy and engineering practice have created tremendous inertia to maintain the status quo. How can it be overcome? Sarah Madden (MCP ’10) took a hard look at the development of Philadelphia’s “Green City, Clean Water” plan to answer this question. She found that a combination of changes in federal policies and the efforts of a determined policy entrepreneur who worked steadily over nearly two decades came together to create the right conditions for the plan to take shape. The lessons Sarah draws from the case study are worth considering for other large cities or even smaller municipalities struggling to find ways to make green infrastructure more palatable in their context. See Sarah’s full thesis,“Choosing Green Over Gray: Philadelphia’s Innovative Stormwater Infrastructure Plan”.