The recent four-year drought in California, which officially ended in 2016, is being analyzed in a number of different ways. One of which, is to examine why so many of the state’s citizens voluntarily reduced water consumption. While everyone was asked to scale back on use, it was not until the last year of the drought that restrictions were mandated on the state’s millions of citizens and businesses.
Well, it appears all the media attention the recent drought managed to garner up was the reason, “a number of water utilities… observed unprecedented and unexpected water conservation levels,” according to Newsha Ajami, who directs the Urban Water Policy and Innovation research team for Stanford’s Water in the West and NSF-ReNUWIt programs.
But how did she and the other researchers come to this conclusion?
What they did was examine what happened when the state experienced its last major drought back in 2008-2009. While that drought only lasted one year, it was considered one of the state’s more pressing dry spells. But what was happening back in 2008, for those that do not remember, was the Great Recession. Every day there was a barrage of news reports about the economic crisis. The drought essentially played “second fiddle” to what was happening with the economy.
The researchers quantified this by checking the news coverage of nine major and national California-based newspapers during this period. They also examined Internet searches about the drought using Google Trends. Because the level of media attention about the drought at that time was so limited, the researchers concluded there was no “unprecedented” jump in water conservation levels. Instead, people were more concerned about their jobs than water consumption, they concluded.
Jump forward to the recent drought, and we see things are very different. Not only was their considerable news coverage about the drought, along with far more Internet search queries, the researchers even uncovered a mathematical correlation between media coverage and reduced water consumption. According to Kim Quesnel, with the Sandford School of Engineering:
“For every 100-article increase over a two-month period, there was an 11 percent to 18 percent decrease in demand for water. With an enormous spike in media attention during the second drought, water savings across all studied areas were dramatic.”
And this extensive, drought-related media attention produced another benefit. According to Quesnel, long-term changes in California were also noted, such as more consumers and businesses selecting water efficient appliances, installing drought-resistant landscaping, along with installing greywater collection systems.
Plus, manufacturers of waterless urinals have also noticed a spike in sales since the drought that continues to rise. Because no-water urinals can save as much as 30,000 gallons of water per year per urinal, it’s pretty obvious why their popularity has grown.