Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Are your conservation messages in line with today’s decision?

I’m here at the highly anticipated board meeting of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, where they just decided to declare a “Water Supply Allocation Plan Level 2.” This means Met will reduce deliveries to member agencies by 10 percent beginning July 1.

You can hear a collective sigh across the Southland, because this represents a considerable improvement over what water wholesalers and retailers in Met’s service area were anticipating just one month ago.

What Does This Mean For Your Conservation Message and Outreach?

The news is a mixed bag for water district communicators. Some agencies must now re-examine earlier decisions to place so much stock in the January and February snowpack data, and all agencies have lost a big stick, as today’s “good” news will make conservation a harder sell.

But there’s no reason why an agency should have to bet its credibility on risky predictions of variable snowfall data or the unpredictable direction of statewide water politics. There’s a simple water conservation message that lets you motivate customers to use less water:

Frame your messages around the assertion that California is in a continuing water shortage – not just a drought.

There’s a big difference.

  • “Drought” addresses only the natural aspects of the water shortage, like rainfall and snowpack, not the court decisions and agreements that have reduced the amount of water the Central Valley and Southern California receive from Northern California.
  • “California’s continuing water shortage” addresses both the “weather drought” and the “regulatory drought” equally, which lets you keep the focus on water-wise behavior in any weather.

Communicate Trust

This difference in word choice may seem minor, but it can have major effects on the amount of trust the public grants to your agency. And trust is the gold standard of water district communications – something you don’t want to bet on the weather, something you do want to build consistently over time with well reasoned, strategic messages and regular outreach.

Trust is more important than ever following today’s Met announcement because we hear skepticism from ratepayers across the Southland:

“Water districts say the same thing every year … drought, drought, drought.”

“I hear rainfall levels were pretty good this year; this must be a hoax!”

So you see, “drought” can cost you trust, but “California’s continuing water shortage” can sustain trust.

Finally, economic messages build trust today. Gallup recently reported that for the first time in more than 25 years, more people said they would protect the economy first, even at a cost to the environment than said they would protect the environment first, even if it cost jobs. This tells us economic incentives – of which there are many – should be received slightly better than environmental incentives. So here’s the full message:

Because California is in a continuing water shortage – not simply a drought – the cost of water is going up. That’s why it’s so important to start using less water.

I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Reach me at or 949/599-1212.

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