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Rio Grande decision makers rank water conservation strategies

Views from the River Front: Rio Grande Decision Makers Rank Water Conservation Strategies

Elected city officials and water managers in the Rio Grande River Basin of Texas and New Mexico have identified three water conservation strategies as the most viable for their communities:

  • Encouraging drought-tolerant landscapes,
  • Mounting public education campaigns about water conservation, and
  • Conducting residential water audits to review use, check for leaks and suggest conservation measures.

These strategies were ranked highest of 15 possible water conservation options listed in a survey sent in 2004 to Rio Grande Basin decision makers. The survey was conducted to help city officials identify the most preferred and feasible strategies for persuading residents in the Rio Grande area to adopt water conservation practices.

Communities in the Rio Grande Basin are facing critical water
shortages as populations and water demands grow faster than the local water supplies can be replenished. Cities in this area have experienced explosive growth that is already taxing their water supplies. Further population increases are expected in both states in the coming years.

In addition to the challenge of rising populations, local officials in these areas are under increasing pressure by state authorities to either develop new sources of water or reduce water demands through
conservation, efficiency measures and/or drought management.

For these communities to be able to provide water for new population and economic growth, water conservation is not an option, but an imperative.

But what are the most preferred and feasible strategies for conserving water in these areas? And what are the barriers to
implementing these strategies?

For answers to these questions, local Rio Grande Basin officials—the people with firsthand knowledge of their cities’ people, strengths,
problems and potential—were tapped to share their views on the best ways to conserve their communities’ water supplies.

In their survey responses, Rio Grande Basin officials considered all 15 water conservation strategies listed (See Appendix I, Water Conservation Strategies) to be viable. But seven approaches were
identified as the most preferred and most feasible. In addition to those listed previously, respondents ranked these options highest:

  • Using graywater (household bath and laundry water, for example) for landscape watering,
  • Requiring drip irrigation as appropriate
  • Reusing treated municipal wastewater, and
  • Restricting outdoor watering.

Conversely, three strategies were consistently identified as least preferred and least feasible:

  • Offering rebates,
  • Restricting landscapes and planting, and
  • Increasing prices to reduce use.

The survey also asked the officials to indicate the importance of 10 barriers to water conservation programs. Knowing about such barriers can help cities devise strategies to overcome them and increase
their programs’ chances of success.

Survey respondents indicated that the most important barriers were financial concerns—revenue loss, cost to implement and increased prices to consumers. Other barriers included lack of awareness and
public opposition.