Prevention is better than cure when it comes to water conservation -

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to water conservation


Water conservation favored by survey subjects. New study determines conservation is the preferred way to protect drinking water.

A new study reveals that people prefer prevention over cure. The University of Delaware field study showed people would invest in water conservation over water treatment.

The recent Flint, Michigan water crisis put this topic at the forefront of people’s minds.

The researchers also found that varying messages relayed in the media and by politicians relating to climate change affect people’s willingness to contribute to projects.

The study was led by Dr. Kent Messer, the Unidel Howard Cosgrove Chair for the Environment and director of the Center for Experimental and Applied Economics (CEAE) in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

“People are much more willing to pay for conservation,” Messer said. “They like the idea of permanently protecting the waters from their source and avoiding having to do technological fixes.”

They field study worked with 251 adult participants from sites throughout northern Delaware. The participants performed simple paid tasks and were then asked to donate their earnings to an organization that could help in alleviating water quality issues in the future.

“People didn’t just show up and automatically receive money. They earned their money. Then, we asked if they wanted to donate it to either a conservation cause (green infrastructure) or to help drinking water utilities (gray infrastructure),” said Messer.

Participants could donate to either the American Water Works Association (AWWA), representing the traditional gray infrastructure, or the Conservation Fund, representing green infrastructure.

The survey also examined how messaging affected people’s choices.

“The big surprise was that messages stating that ‘storms are increasing in frequency due to extreme weather events,’ led to a dramatic decrease in people’s willingness to pay for either conservation or gray infrastructure” said Messer. “This has important implications for how politicians and conservation leaders talk about drinking water protection.”

“This research suggests the emphasis on large storms like Hurricane Sandy will actually make people less willing to take action as it appears that people perceive these large storms as being out of human control,” he said. “If it’s just decaying infrastructure, normal storms, or even climate change, then people might feel they can do something about it. But when you start really emphasizing these large magnitude storms, there becomes a sense of hopelessness.”

Read the whole report over at Agricultural and Resource Economics Review.

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