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News The public must be engaged

Understanding water demand and consumers’ capacity for change is essential in underpinning water demand management and water efficiency programmes. However, a qualitative study published in CIWEM’s Water and Environment Journal shows that users are generally unaware of their own water consumption and that individual perceptions of changes in behaviour are constrained by habit and lack of knowledge.

As water resources are placed under increasing pressure due to population and consumption growth, understanding and managing water demand is vital. A cultural approach to studying demand helps to understand consumption patterns, better informing technical research agendas and demand management strategies formulated by water companies and regulators.

The authors of the study say:

“There is no doubt that the public has an important role in reducing demand for water. As water shortages become critical, the public should not only be guided to make changes but also form a big part of the decision making process. The sentiments and judgments of the public should be included in water demand management decisions, as well as expert knowledge and analysis.”

“However, environmentally aware citizens feel they have exhausted everything within their own remits of knowledge and power, and although they are happy to incorporate more changes, they cannot do so unless instructed or are part of a bigger scheme. Thus, in order to do so, the public now requires guidance and help from bigger actors, like the government, councils and water companies, to help to change habits or insert new technology into the home. This type of information will not only help people to make changes, but could mean an unambiguous and easy solution.”

“The level of ignorance and the lack of information about the water system that was found in this study involving environmentally aware citizens are likely to be magnified in the general population. While information alone is unlikely to lead to changes in behaviour and consumption, this study highlights important areas for water companies and other organisations to focus public engagement efforts. These include basic profile raising so that the public are aware of the services they provide, including sewerage; providing fundamental information regarding the water and wastewater systems; specific information about how much water people use in their daily activities; and practical guidance on how to save water in the home.”


For more information contact Emily Doyle, CIWEM Press and Marketing Officer, on 020 7831 3110 or

Editor’s note

  1. The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, CIWEM, is an independent professional body and a registered charity, advancing the science and practice of water and environmental management for a clean, green and sustainable world.
  2. Public Engagement with Water Conservation in London by Ud Doron, Tse-Hui Teh, Muki Haklay & Sarah Bell, Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, University College London, is published in CIWEM’s Water and Environment Journal
  3. For more information about CIWEM’s Water and Environmental Journal published by Wiley-Blackwell, go to

Contact information Emily Doyle, CIWEM Press and Marketing Office, The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) 15 John Street London WC1N 2EB Registered Charity No: 1043409 (England and Wales) Registered Charity No: SC038212 (Scotland) VAT No: 460 5613 62 (email:
Phone: +44 (0)20 7831 3110 Fax: +44 (0)20 7405 4967
News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information CIWEM’s Water and Environmental Journal
Geographical coverage n/a
News date 09/02/2011
Working language(s) ENGLISH