Floridians Want To Conserve Water ... Just Give Them A Sign!

Jun 30, 2017

A new study by South Florida researchers finds a simple tactic can save a lot of wasted water.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, around half of household water use in the U.S. is used to water lawns. And much of the time the lawns don’t even need it.

Most South Florida lawns need about one inch of water per week. During the rainy season, the region often gets more rain than that. So the lawns don’t need extra water.  

But most homeowners are not checking a rain gauge every morning.

“The issue is how to get the information about recent rainfall to people — so that they can make more informed decisions,” said Florida Atlantic University graduate Felicia Survis, who recently earned her Ph.D. in geosciences. 

Research partners Felicia Survis, left, and FAU Department of Geosciences Associate Professor Tara Root had a hypothesis:  If people knew -- in real time -- their lawn didn’t need water, they wouldn’t water it.
Credit Peter Haden / WLRN

Survis and her research partner, FAU Department of Geosciences Associate Professor Tara Root, had a hypothesis:  If people knew — in real time — their lawn didn’t need water, they wouldn’t water it.

So the researchers came up with an information delivery system.

“The tactic was to put up some signs,” said Root.

Signs.

The pair installed a single sign at the entrance point of three separate neighborhoods in Wellington. Each sign had two numbers. The first: a tally of the last seven days’ rainfall. The second: a reminder of how much water most South Florida lawns need — one inch per week.  

At the bottom of the sign, a simple question: Is rainfall alone meeting your lawn water needs?  

The result? Lawn water usage was cut in half.

“Having those signs up reduced lawn water use significantly,” said Root, “by an average of about 51 percent over the neighborhoods that didn’t have the signs up.”

Historical average weekly rainfall is shown in relationship with typical lawn water need for the study area in South Florida.
Credit Study: "The Rain-watered Lawn" / Florida Atlantic University

The bottom line is, people want to do the right thing when it comes to water conservation, according to Survis.

“This approach gives them more nuanced information that they can use to pull back on watering when it's unnecessary,” she said.

The results of the two-year FAU study entitled "The Rain-Watered Lawn" are published in the current issue of the Journal of Environmental Management.