Study Finds Significant Water Conservation Through Simple Method

Florida Atlantic University researchers looked at what happens when utilities move beyond only watering restrictions and give customers a little more information about their water use
Study Finds Significant Water Conservation Through Simple Method
The signs in the study's experimental neighborhoods displayed the rainfall levels in the last seven days and reminded people that most South Florida lawns need only 1 inch of water per week. (Courtesy of Florida Atlantic University)

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Enforcing lawn-watering restrictions is a common conservation practice in many parts of the country. But how effective is it in truly producing water savings? In a study recently published in the Journal of Environmental Management, Florida Atlantic University researchers concluded that adding one more simple method to that equation can help significantly — road signs.

For two years, researchers conducted a study in Wellington, Florida, in which they placed highly visible road signs close to the entrance of several neighborhoods. The signs displayed the rainfall levels in the last seven days and reminded people that most South Florida lawns need only 1 inch of water per week. The bottom of the signs read: Is rainfall alone meeting the water needs of your lawn?

At the same time, households in those neighborhoods received a postcard and leaflet about the signs that informed them that the existing watering restrictions were not being replaced or modified. Those 321 households were compared against a control group of 306 households that only had the existing watering restrictions to inform them.

Over the course of the study, the experimental group’s watering practices stayed at about 41 percent below the control group. And since lawn watering can sometimes make up a majority of a household’s water use, that means a lot for conservation efforts.

“We would significantly benefit from a new approach to outdoor water conservation to improve how we conserve water and to help people better recognize and synchronize with the regional water balance,” Felicia Survis, one of the researchers, told “People realize that there is something more meaningful that they could be doing to conserve water besides just following a watering schedule, but they have no clear idea about what to do.”

The differences in water use between the two groups was even greater during Florida’s rainy season, where the experimental group’s watering was down 61 percent compared to the control group.

“This was a particular powerful finding because virtually all lawn watering during those rainier weeks was unnecessary,” Tara Root, the other researcher on the study, told

The researchers view their findings as something that could be effectively implemented in other places and on a much larger scale to help utilities' customers better sync their water use with actual conditions.

“With some modifications and use of technology such as texting and the internet, a weather-based outreach project like ours could be scaled up for much larger metropolitan areas,” Root says.



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