Water Conservation and Residential Landscapes: Household Preferences, Household Choices

Article excerpt

Communities throughout the Western United States are challenged by tight water supplies and swelling populations. Information is needed to better develop and target municipal water conservation programs. Significant water savings ranging from 35% to 70% are possible from changes in residential landscaping and improved management of outside watering, which often accounts for more than 50% of total residential water use. This study examines landscape choices of homeowners in three cities in New Mexico in order to identify and measure behavioral factors affecting water conservation. Using survey data, landscape choices are analyzed with a mixed logit model that assesses the effects of landscape and homeowner characteristics on choice probabilities. Model coefficients and implied elasticities indicate that water cost, education, and regional culture are significant determinants of landscape choice. In addition, the results suggest moral suasion can also have a positive influence toward water-conserving landscapes.

Key words: discrete choice, landscape preferences, New Mexico water, residential landscape, water conservation, water conservation programs, water savings

Introduction

Water conservation is a prominent issue challenging communities throughout the Western United States. States and local governments are grappling with the design and development of water conservation plans and strategies that will permit continued economic development in the face of limited and, in some cases, dwindling water resources. In the New Mexico State Water Plan, for example, it states:

The Office of the State Engineer will encourage local governments and water providers to develop and implement comprehensive water conservation plans and will recommend that a water conservation plan be required in any application for State financial assistance for water development infrastructure (New Mexico Office of the State Engineer, Interstate Stream Commission, 2003).

Similar laws exist in other states, such as Colorado (Colorado Water Conservation Board, 2005).

As public resources are directed into water conservation programs, local governments and utility managers are concerned about program effectiveness and the means to measure program outcomes and performance. Assessments of public attitudes and behavioral changes can provide both quantitative and qualitative measures of the impacts of water conservation programs and their effectiveness. A key challenge, therefore, is designing an approach and instrument to measure such changes and to track responses as water conservation programs develop and mature.

At its core, water conservation combines awareness of water sources and services and an understanding of how behavioral changes can enhance the value of these services. Central to the problem of designing effective water conservation programs-and hence to long-term planning of urban water resources-is the question of how responsive individuals and households are to various types of water conservation incentives. Allowing for heterogeneity, the question is also how households with certain characteristics are responsive to program characteristics and incentives.

This study uses data collected in 2004 from a mail survey of homeowners in three New Mexico cities who provided responses indicating their attitudes toward landscape and water use (Kurd and Smith, 2005). The survey and data are briefly summarized and are then used in a discrete choice, random utility model in order to measure the sensitivity and responsiveness of landscape choices to changes in conservation program incentives such as water price and moral suasion, and to examine how these responses differ with changes in individual and household characteristics.

Water Conservation and Landscape Choice

Residential demand for water is growing rapidly throughout the West and is creating pressure for new sources of domestic water supplies. …