"Evaluating Water Conservation Policy in California"
Leah Stokes (Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, Environmental Studies Department, UC Santa Barbara)
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Between 2014 and 2016, California required urban water districts to conserve 20-25% of the water used across the state in 2013. While some districts were very successful, others failed to meet their targets. What explains variation in California urban water districts’ success when state-wide mandatory water reductions were in effect? Using an original monthly panel data set and a public opinion poll of Californians, we examine how variation in policy—pricing, messaging and penalties—affected water conservation across districts. We find marked differences across high and low performing districts in the strategies they use to save water. Using fixed effects estimators, we find that social penalties alone substantively contributed to water conservation. By contrast, both messaging strategies and pricing strategies did not appear to increase water savings. We conclude that California should adopt a more comprehensive data collection and accountability system to increase water conservation effectiveness and water price equality across the state.
Leah Stokes is a public policy and political science scholar who works on environmental and energy policy. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science and is affiliated with the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management and the Environmental Studies Department at the UCSB. She works on environmental and energy policy. Her forthcoming book studies interest groups’ role in changing US states’ energy policy. Other ongoing projects include examining protests against energy infrastructure, political staff in Congress, environmentalists’ electoral participation, violence against environmental activists, and effective water conservation policy in California. Her research has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, British Journal of Political Science, Energy Policy, Nature Energy, Global Environmental Politics, and Environmental Science & Technology. She also has published articles in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CNN, and Vox.