Earlier this month, I noted that demand side management policies need to take human behavior into account if they are going to be successful. The same is apparently true for policies to reduce water consumption in drought-stricken areas. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California provides economic incentives for certain water conservation measures, including installing water efficient toilets and ripping out grass to install landscaping that does not consume as much water. All good, right?
Well, apparently the water savings from installing water-efficient plumbing is about 10 times greater than from removing grass from lawns. However, having natural landscaping has now become the latest must-have among SoCal landowners, and everyone is applying for the rebate to remove their grass, thus rapidly exhausting the MWD budget for these types of rebates. According to the Times, MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger explained the problem as follows:
The toilet is somewhere buried in your house. No one knows if you did the right thing or not.… People want that “Yeah, I did the right thing for the drought, and I want people to see it.”
We were willing to throw a bunch of money, even if it’s not maybe the most cost-effective tool. I think in the long run, changing that mindset is going to pay off. If it was just saving water, we’d have preferred to put everything, every dollar into devices.
Maybe the MWD should pay some well-known designer to develop a low consumption toilet that everyone in fashion-conscious SoCal will want to buy.