Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Are Water Agencies About to Drown in Positive Polling?

A recent survey conducted by the Municipal Water District of Orange County found that 93 percent of the 500 respondents feel Orange County’s water supply is somewhat reliable or very reliable.  That’s big news to us in the business of influencing public behavior, because a similar question asked in the agency’s 2008 survey found that only 27 percent felt OC had a reliable supply.

So can us communicators take credit for the nearly four-fold jump in public perception?  After all, our water supply is just as reliable today (or unreliable depending how you look at it) than it was three years ago.  We humbly say, “not so fast.”

While water agencies did ramp up communications in recent years to encourage conservation (many with help from LP&A), it’s more likely that consecutive wet winters, the governor declaring the drought to be over and the flood of water agencies rescinding mandatory conservation rules were the key driver.

But perceptions don’t always match reality.  Those in the water world know that supplies imported from the Sacramento Delta and Colorado River are anything but reliable, and this constant pendulum swing from perceived water feast to perceived water famine only makes our jobs that much more difficult.

That’s why LP&A counsels our water clients to remove the words “drought” and “conservation” from their lexicons.  Instead, we focus on California’s “ongoing water shortage,” which opens the door to discuss all the factors impacting supply, including climactic cycles, infrastructure challenges and our state’s oh-so-popular legal hurdles.  We also push the need for customers to become “efficient” users.  “Conservation” implies giving up something that’s rightfully yours.  There’s not enough water to waste in wet and dry years alike, so it’s important for everyone to become efficient with the water we have.  Because as water agencies are quickly learning, it’s difficult to compel conservation without a perceived threat.

Our job as communicators isn’t to swing the pendulum toward the false conclusion we have a bullet-proof water supply.  We should instead give customers the real story (the good, bad and ugly) and push for efficient use.  Doing so may not score survey points, but it will build more trusting, water-wise customers – and that’s a good thing rain or shine.

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