Weaving Citizens into the Water Conservation Story

Weaving Citizens into the Water Conservation Story

How Citizen Engagement, Education and Empowerment holds the reins in creating water sustainability movements

More than 10% of the world lacks access to it. More than 90% of natural disasters are linked to it. Women in under-developed nations spend days hauling it. Wars are fought over it.

Water management and conservation challenges have been in the news for a long time, and the focus from the United Nations SDG’s has added extra emphasis to the importance of providing clean water and safe sanitation for all.

Celeste Tinajero from the United States could not bear to see her Nevada high school’s outdated bathrooms continue to leak water in her drought-stricken state. She led her school to win a state grant to retrofit the lavatories with low-flow devices, auto-sensor lights etc. Celeste also rallied support for installing a water refilling station in the school, which has saved an estimated 37,000 single-use water bottles to date. Awarded a Brower Youth Award, she is pursuing her life’s passion – of educating youth about the environment.

Amla Ruia, fondly known as the Water Mother of India, has been involved in many projects to improve the water crisis conditions in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. She has built hundreds of check dams in over 100 villages across Rajasthan. Due to her efforts, many villages in the state are water sufficient today. She is ensuring that every individual in the villages is aware and engaged in water conservation.

Access to clean drinking water and addressing the challenges of sanitation is recognized as a global challenge at the highest level including the United Nations, World Economic Forum (WEF), UNICEF and many others.

For all of humanity, access to clean water can turn global problems into global potential and prosperous economies. Regarding waste and sanitation, the safe removal and treatment of waste-water has been linked to protecting health, preventing the spread of disease, and preserving the environment for all.

Water is a global topic that has put every water company around the world into focus with increasing demands to preserve water and protect the environment.
Water providers in the UK have also identified the need to optimize water consumption to secure a sustainable future. Let’s explore some actionable strategies to engage and empower citizens towards water conservation –

Connecting us to Sustainable Water Management
Many will use a tap, with high quality drinking water gushing out, giving little thought to the water flowing down the drain. We often don’t think about our water source or how challenging it is to make water available to us. This mostly invisible service often means we act as consumers, but perhaps we need to think more like citizens to support the need for change.

Climate change has been stated as a cause for more severe weather patterns which has escalated the water crisis. This situation has created more frequent cycling between floods and droughts – which don’t represent two ends of a spectrum, but a circle, severely affecting the water challenge.

Regardless of which part of the country we live and work, we all should be caring about our water use and making the connection between water and climate change. As consumers and customers, we care about availability and affordability, but as citizens we should be encouraged to understand that we have had the same amount of fresh water since dinosaurs walked the earth. As the population grows, humanity is having to share the same water resources. We can all recognize that if we don’t conserve water now, we will not have enough for future generations.

Only collective and responsible efforts can ensure that water is conserved and saved. As responsible residents of the planet, we should all contribute towards water management. The first step begins with understanding our usage and reducing our wastage.

Awareness and concern are necessary to generate citizen engagement for water conservation, but, alone, are not enough. Incentives such as cost savings on utility bills, manufacturer rebates on smart water equipment, involvement in water saving campaigns and gamification, among others, should be considered as supplemental efforts in promoting the adoption of water-saving systems and practices. 

Committing to Being a Good Neighborhood
Approaching customers and communities to become active partners can change how they view and manage water resources. It has proven to be essential to connect with residents during all stages of water conservation – be it awareness, action, or advocacy. These types of conversations equip citizens with the knowledge to effectively engage, understand and address the water challenge.

These efforts are also required to consider diverse communities and take everyone along with them to develop positive environmental stewardship. In a time of increased polarized discourse, community engagement can uncover common ground, necessary to build equitable solutions for everyone. It can also help create a richer, more detailed and well-defined illustration of the problems and underlying opportunities that may have been overlooked in the past.

Improving Water Education
Public water education at all levels presents a major improvement opportunity to meet the challenges of the water crisis and meet the broad-based water conservation strategy. As the water conservation knowledge of the citizens and communities improve, they are more likely to participate in the conservation initiatives and other opportunities available to them through their utility or government. If appropriately educated in water management through rich insights, citizens are also much more likely to make better decisions themselves when choosing water-efficient appliances. 

Community education strategies can be devised to promote community-wide water conservation efforts and enhance local co-management of water.

Planet Water Foundation, a non-profit organization, provides a stellar example of improving water education. The foundation is committed to bringing clean water and hygiene education programs to the world’s most impoverished communities. Their education programs bring hope, health, and opportunity to children, schools, and rural communities.

Fostering Water Conservation through Digital Platforms
So how do we engage the public in effectively building a water-secure future?

A key component of the ‘how’ is with the power of industry platforms that embrace digital and mobile technology for rich engagement.

We know that 84% of the world’s population are smartphone users. The average time spent on the smartphone is 171 minutes per day, and apps account for 89% of mobile media time.

Industry platforms, based around a cause and enabled through cloud-based digital services can help engage, educate and empower the population. These types of platforms facilitate communication of water issues effectively and help reach billions of global citizens via their channels of choice, mostly their mobile devices. 

From allowing customers to monitor and analyze their water usage, and by empowering customers to report water wastage and leakage, technological intervention of this type offers multiple use cases to drive water conservation. Countries, cities and utilities are reaping the benefits of lower operating costs, a reduction in non-revenue water, active leak detection and increased customer satisfaction.

Prioritizing Citizen Empowerment by Utilities
Water remains fundamental to the well-being of all citizens and is a significant area of concern for resilience and environmental sustainability. Citizen engagement and empowerment on water-related services and infrastructure reflects the need to bring democratic values into decisions around them.

Utilities have the opportunity to play a vital role in embedding environmental and community needs into the fabric of water infrastructure and planning projects through citizen-focused policies and strategic planning, making every policy and initiative inclusive of environmental and community interests. 

Utility providers have a once in a lifetime opportunity to leverage these tools to benefit the community, course-correct when necessary, mitigate any potential harm, and make this practice the norm at every level of the organization.

Utilities will remain at the forefront of this fight against water scarcity. And the time to act is Right Now! By working together with policymakers, regulators, governments, and citizens, we can create a water-secure ecosystem. With the power of industry platforms and digitalization, utilities can adopt technology tools to reach out, engage and equip citizens to become water-aware, and generate a resource-savvy consumer mindset.

Engaging, Empowering and Educating citizens are the first steps towards water conservation. SEW’s innovative digital platforms are proven enablers that are empowering water providers and charting the course of digital transition right across the globe – and are on a mission to help solve global water challenges. 

To learn more, reach us at [email protected]