Uncovering the Power of Behavior: Participate in AWE’s Latest Project to Transform Residential Irrigation  

I am nothing if not competitive. Every spring, I engage in an unspoken game of chicken to see how long I can go before activating my automatic sprinkler system without impacting our much-used, outdoor living room (aka, our yard).   

The games continue with my irrigation controller. I challenge it by adjusting settings and skipping as many watering cycles as I can depending on landscape conditions, recent rainfall, expected rainfall in the forecast.  

While out and about, I play “I Spy”: my head on a swivel to spot broken irrigation heads, blatant run-off from over irrigation, or the occasional geyser. I happily report what I find to our local water waste hotline, though I doubt there are enough irrigation vigilantes to start a rec league. (Note to self: How to channel Pickleball-level passion into water conservation?)  

How can we motivate households to rethink their outdoor water usage habits and embrace more sustainable practices? 

In many communities, outdoor water use is between 30-60 percent of all residential water use, and according to US EPA WaterSense, homes with automatic irrigation systems use 50 percent more water than homes without them. With a changing climate and increasing frequency and severity of drought conditions, water providers and companies alike have invested serious resources and brainpower to encourage, incentivize, and even require smarter irrigation practices. Yet, there’s still a segment of customers who over irrigate.  

The Water Research Foundation’s 2016 Residential End Uses of Water Study found that 13 percent of households were over-irrigators. Further, AWE’s 2019 Residential Landscape Transformation Study found that homeowners are generally disconnected from their outdoor water use, most estimating outdoor water use is only 10-30 percent of total household water use.  

While there has been much research on irrigation controllers, equipment, watering restrictions, there is more to be discovered around the importance of understanding how residents make decisions about their outdoor water use irrigation and why they make them, in order to target interventions more effectively.  

Behavior-based strategies as a tool for utilities to drive water conservation outdoors. 

Recognizing this widespread challenge and opportunity, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, in partnership with Scotts Miracle Gro Foundation, is exploring how behavioral science and behavior-based strategies could help over-irrigators right-size their watering – to save water, reduce run-off, and ultimately foster healthier and more sustainable landscapes. Behavior-based tactics might include commitments and goal-setting, water use comparisons to neighbors, gamification, competitions, recognitions, youth engagement, and more! 

This project aims to: 

  • Collect and synthesize current knowledge of behavior-based strategies and previously researched efforts to help residential households save water outdoors.
  • Test out behavior-based strategies through real-world pilot projects.  
  • Create a guide on behavior-based strategies. 
  • Deliver a full research report.  
  • Distribute education and insights to the industry broadly. 

Join us! We are seeking organizations interested in this research to: 

  • Contribute research insights or stakeholder perspectives. 
  • Serve on a project advisory committee.  
  • Host the real-world pilot studies in your community.  

We need a diverse set of experiences to inform this project. If you are interested in participating, please complete this brief survey by Friday, May 31st, or email me to learn more.