Answering the Tough Questions During Drought

Earlier this year, the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted emergency regulations to limit the use of potable water in wasteful scenarios, such as washing cars, watering lawns, or filling decorative fountains. As the Southwest continues to battle the impacts of drought, we expect communities will see more regulatory restrictions. As water suppliers ask customers repeatedly to “do their part” during the second drought in less than a decade, on top of sacrifices made during the past two years of a global pandemic and widespread rising costs, tough questions are being asked as customers are weary of increasing restrictions.

However, drought-stricken regions cannot manage water resources without the help of consumers. The quickest way to respond during water shortages is by reducing demand at home and work. Meanwhile, rates are rising to address critical infrastructure. Communication in these scenarios is critical, requiring agencies to anticipate common questions and prepare standard responses that address drought conditions, restrictions, and long-term plans for water security.


Katie Evans Senior Communications Strategist

View All Posts

Why do I have to save?

Urban customers often wonder how their water conservation can possibly make an impact compared to the big water consumers, like farms and groves. It is hard for the average consumer to understand why watering a small garden is prohibited while agriculture businesses continue irrigating acres of crops. When this question arises, it is important to first point out that successful crops mean access to food. At the same time, share with the average residential customer the restrictions being applied to agriculture as well. Usually when residential water customers are being asked to restrict certain water usage, agricultural customers are also being asked to improve efficiency or leverage recycled water for irrigation purposes.

Why is new construction permitted?

New construction is increasingly subject to more efficient water use practices implemented by local and state agencies. Areas in which there is low to moderate building, water agencies can rely on the local and state codes to help existing customers understand the requirements placed on new homes and businesses. In larger growth areas, water agencies will need to be specific in outlining long-term water management plans. Actions that agencies have committed to should be described clearly so existing customers can understand the plans are designed to allow new construction with water use efficiency in mind, while also asking existing customers to help during emergency drought situations.

Why are rates increasing?

If consumers are being asked to use less water, but their water use bills remain unchanged or even increase, water agencies are bound to field this question. Especially since water agencies have repeatedly encouraged customers to use less water to save money. Water suppliers need to reassess their messaging to provide a more realistic explanation for asking customers to use less while they may indeed have to pay more. In this instance, it becomes inherent to share how ratepayers help maintain and improve critical infrastructure in an easy-to-understand way. Help consumers understand that to improve the reliability of water supply, aging infrastructure needs to be updated and other systems incorporated. Investing in water systems is one of many ways for agencies to avoid water shortages. It is also important to share the state and federal funding secured for this work supplements the water use rates. Regardless of the grant amount, customers are usually happy to see the water agency trying to save its users money by securing these funds for capital improvement projects.

Prepare customers for water use restrictions

In our experience working with water agencies through periods of drought, customers react badly to quickly implemented regulations. Since California is already starting to buckle down on outdoor water use, now is the time to communicate with consumers about the potential for more stringent regulations if drought conditions persist. Educate your customer base about infrastructure improvements that better manage water supply. Attend community events to provide education up front and answer questions from customers about various programs. Issue a press release explaining why user restrictions are critical to maintaining a resilient water supply.

We also know, many water suppliers still do not have the capacity for an in-house marketing department or public relations team. However, leveraging the skills of a communications professional can help mitigate a deluge of consumer questions. Successful public relations campaigns are a combination of art and psychology, so having a professional who understands the fundamentals of public outreach will make customer communications all the better. Our consulting team has the background to assist in public outreach campaigns or connect you with a contract professional who both understands the water demand and regulatory measures, as well as the intricacies translating technical information into a strong public education and outreach campaign.

Scroll back to top of the page