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Americans Want Local Leaders to Stop Passing the Buck on Water Conservation

Heatwaves and extreme temperatures have prompted local governments across the United States to urge residents to conserve water. As addressing water shortages emerges as a key priority, Zencity analyzed discourse related to water conservation and restrictions in over 200 cities and counties across the U.S. Our data report looks at 4 months of national data to identify key themes, resident concerns, and best practices.


Heatwaves and extreme temperatures across the globe have put cities and counties around the United States on alert for impending droughts and have prompted local governments world-wide to urge their residents to conserve water. As the threat to one of our most prized natural resources grows, and water conservation emerges as a key priority, Zencity analyzed related discourse in over 200 cities and counties across the US to identify key themes, resident concerns, and best practices.

The analysis in this data report reviews online discourse about this topic from April through July 2021. Over these four months, 371K interactions were generated on the topics of water conservation and restrictions on water use.

Key Findings & Takeaways

  1. The main driver of discourse related to water conservation is non-official channels, where discourse on the matter increased by 157% in June and July, as compared to April and May.
  2. Official communications on water conservation and water restrictions generate almost 2X more negative sentiment than organic discourse on unofficial channels.
  3. Residents want to see their local governments leading by example and curtailing their own water usage – rather than just expecting community members to do so.
  4. Residents are demanding solutions that plan for the long-term and make sense in the context of other homeowner association (HOA) rules and regulations.

Americans Are On Alert

Extreme temperatures drive higher discourse about water conservation

In June and July, local governments intensified their communication efforts around water conservation and introduced water restrictions. Official communications about water conservation increased by 37% from the two months prior.

Non-government owned platforms, like local news channels, community and neighborhood groups, etc., also prompted a big increase in dialogue about water conservation. Discourse on these unofficial channels about water conservation increased by 157% across all Zencities and counties.Water shortages discourse

City & County Communications

Official communications about water conservation elicit higher negative sentiment than unofficial channels

Water restrictions

As cities increase their outreach about conserving water and in some cases discuss water restrictions, residents have responded with 1.5X higher negative sentiment than positive (14% and 9%, respectively). Resident feedback to local government communications about this issue is 1.75X more negative than the discourse on unofficial channels – as residents respond to official posts by criticizing how cities or counties are dealing with threats to water supplies.

Water restrictions and water conservation efforts

What Residents Expect

Criticism directed at local governments shows that residents want to see concrete efforts by the city and better planning for the future

Water conservation city hall

A review of resident discourse surrounding the issue of water conservation, and specifically calls by the city or county to restrict usage, shows the following grievances and positions:

  • Residents demand the city take an active part in the effort to reduce water usage and lead by example, mainly by reducing usage in government buildings and parks.
  • In addition, residents express an interest in increased enforcement of businesses wasting water (and not increased enforcement aimed at private citizens).

frustration with water conservation efforts

  • Residents are also reacting to water conservation campaigns and usage restrictions by calling on their cities to find more sustainable and long-term solutions to the issue, as the problem is unlikely to disappear.
  • Residents criticize limited, shorter-term initiatives to reduce water usage as being ineffective, and an untenable burden on the community’s resilience and natural resources if long-term solutions are not found.

Water restrictions by city ordinance

  • Finally, residents also argue that certain city or neighborhood policies make it harder to limit water usage. For example, residents often note that HOA regulations prevent them from hanging clothes to dry rather than use a dryer or having strict rules about lawn maintenance, thus making it harder for them to conserve water.

Best Practices

We’ve identified a few best practices from our community of Zencities and counties that you may want to consider adopting. These are quick tips that can have a real impact, based on what we understand from resident input. However, if your community is likely to be impacted by water shortages we recommend that water conservation become one of your strategic priorities. To understand how you can incorporate community input around this topic into your strategic planning processes, check out our eBook on this topic.

Water conservation efforts

Make it easy to be part of the solution: 

  • Share concrete instructions or specific actions that can help in reducing water usage.
  • Create a mechanism to report broken sprinklers and leaking pipes.

Lead by example: 

  • Frame water conservation as a joint, collaborative process involving private residents, businesses and the city itself.
  • Invite residents to hold the city accountable by reporting instances of irresponsible water usage on city properties or public parks (for example, by publishing a map of city-maintained grass areas).
  • Curtail your use of water and communicate about it by leveraging social media.

Communicate proactively

  • Communicate openly and actively about how the city is acting to address issues.
  • Become the source of information for your residents regarding water conservation, the threat of drought, and how to address water shortages – so that you can own the narrative and ensure your residents have the right information.

To better understand how your community is responding to water shortages and water conservation efforts, schedule a personalized demo with the Zencity team today

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