Residential water conservation in Austin, Texas



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This study explores the social, technological economic, and environmental development of single-family residential water conservation programs at the Austin Water Utility and asks: What makes a conservation program successful? I hypothesize that water conservation programs will be successful if both institutional-producer goals and citizen-consumer goals are satisfied. While the findings suggest that this may be partially true, it also has become clear that my original actor-network model was too simple to predict the various types of influences on program success. Not only did I find other significant ‘actors’ involved in water conservation, I also found that utility and participant groups themselves represent a wide variety of interests. This study seeks to answer the research question by creating a series of narratives that critically explore water infrastructure and water conservation programs in Austin, Texas. Through a methodological lens referred to as ‘critical constructivism,’ I use mixed methods to analyze and interpret historic documents, interviews, and quantitative data as primary sources. Literature from Science and Technology Studies (STS) are used as secondary sources.
This study will add to a body of knowledge that describes how and why we manage our environmental resources. The subject of conservation is especially relevant as urban growth continues with fewer affordable opportunities to increase regional water supplies. As we enter an era of expected water conflict, knowing how to conserve water effectively will help provide more opportunities for sharing a common resource amongst communities, industry, agriculture, and the environment.