In 2009, the Cherry Creek 3 townhome community in Colorado used 37 million gallons of water. In 2014, their usage had dropped by more than 15 million gallons to just under 22 million. How did this community of 250 townhomes accomplish such a monumental task in just five years? Someone took charge.
When Don and Lynn Ireland moved to Cherry Creek 3, they were a bit frustrated by the fact that the entire community shared one single water meter. This meant everyone was responsible for the community’s full bill. The two began to look into why so much water was being used and sought to encourage water conservation within their community. Their chief aim was to replace the turf lawns and juniper plants that covered the landscape with native plants. They also planned to build a community garden, replacing a large amount of turfgrass.
Over the course of five years, they managed to convert all 250 yards to native flowers and shrubs that require little to no additional watering. What the Irelands did was no small feat, but it is replicable — here’s how you can follow suit and encourage water conservation within your community.
Laying the Groundwork: Lead by Example
Practice what you preach.
You’ll never convince anyone to conserve water if you aren’t doing it yourself. Start with the basics: install aerators on faucets, use a low-flow showerhead, turn off faucets when brushing your teeth or lathering up, use WaterSense rated appliances, and plant native plants in your yard, etc. (Need more suggestions? Check out this complete guide to water conservation.)
Engage with others.
In addition to conserving water in your own home, it’s important to become part of the community. If you have a homeowners’ association, attend the meetings when possible and if it interests you, become a part of the board. If you don’t have an HOA, look for other ways to get involved. Organize playdates for kids, invite neighbors over for dinner and socializing, or go out on a walk through your neighborhood in the morning or evening to meet others.
Seek out allies.
As you get to know those around you, find other like-minded individuals who you think would also be interested in helping your community reduce its water consumption. Having a small group of individuals who are aligned with your vision will be a valuable resource as you take the next steps.
Starting Outreach: What to Teach Others
Give people a reason to save.
Reducing water use really begins with education. First and foremost, people need to understand why they need to conserve water. Many people simply don’t think about it. They turn on the faucet and out it flows. If you approach it from a cost-savings perspective, many people are more engaged. Most people want to save money, and conserving water is a simple way to do that. The Groundwater Foundation also publishes a lot of helpful information about water consumption and how to conserve it within our communities. You may find some helpful resources there to share with friends and neighbors.
Provide entry-level strategies.
You’ll also want to teach others how to conserve water. It’s best to start with the easiest ways first. Things like repairing leaky faucets and turning off the faucet when brushing teeth. Most people don’t have too much difficulty taking these steps. These small changes don’t disrupt their routine much and they’re quick habits to build.
Encourage others to challenge themselves.
Next, move on to things people may find a bit more difficult, like shortening their showers and installing aerators and low-flow showerheads. These are changes that can cost a small amount of money and, in some cases, cause some minor inconvenience. Some individuals will find these harder to implement, but with some work, they can get done.
Finally, teach others how to do larger projects, like xeriscaping. Lawns are easily one of the largest consumers of water in many homes. As the Irelands showed, making a change in what plants you use can substantially reduce your community’s water consumption.
Widening Your Influence: How to Teach Others
Choose a monthly focus.
Coming up with ideas of what to teach may not be too difficult — how to get that information to them, however, can be far more challenging. If you do have an HOA, you probably have some type of newsletter. This can be a vital asset in helping your community conserve water. Work with your HOA board to come up with a plan. Each month, share one item to focus on. As the month goes by, look for ways to remind people of this month’s focus.
Start an in-person conversation.
You could also invite people over for a community gathering in your home or a nearby park. With an intimate gathering, you can take a few minutes to talk about ways to conserve water in your neighborhood and invite people to share their own suggestions. With a gathering like this, having a few other like-minded individuals in attendance can really help.
Host an event.
You could also hold small workshops and invite others to participate. This is particularly effective when it comes to gardening and xeriscaping. For some, these are daunting tasks, but with a helpful neighbor to lead them along, many people will be more willing to make the change.
If you’re particularly handy, you could also offer to install showerheads and aerators for your neighbors. Many people simply don’t have the tools or know-how to do these tasks. Offering to do it for them may push them to take that first small step.
Encouraging your community to conserve water can feel like a monumental task. But if you’ll take it one step at a time and look for small ways to encourage others, you just may wake up in five years having saved millions of gallons of water.
This post was originally published on March 28, 2018.