Stanford researchers find link between media coverage, household water savings during Calif. drought

Oct. 26, 2017
New web-scraping and search algorithm is paired with water utility data.

STANFORD, CA, OCT 26, 2017 -- A new study from Stanford University researchers links real water consumption data with media coverage and the public attention garnered by California's recent droughts.

The Researchers found that heightened news coverage of the most recent drought was related to greater water conservation by Californians, according to a Stanford press release.

With increased media coverage of the drought (pink lines), web searches for drought information also increased (green lines). (Image credit: Urban Water Policy and Innovation team)

"A number of water utilities that we work with observed unprecedented and unexpected water conservation levels during the recent drought in California compared to previous ones," said hydrologist Newsha Ajami, who directs Urban Water Policy and Innovation research for Stanford's Water in the West program. "We were curious to see what was prompting this level of public response, especially before the 2015 conservation mandate went into effect." Researchers worked together on creating a model to chart water conservation, as well as a search algorithm to track news coverage of the drought between 2005 and 2015. The results, published Oct. 25 in the journal Science Advances, show the relationship between media coverage and water savings, in some cases at the level of household smart meters.

The web-scraping and search algorithm is called Articulate; and a web portal allows people to interact with drought data, showing the correlation between news coverage and water conservation at home.

"If you provide the right set of knowledge and information to consumers, they do actually react and respond to that message. The drought really raised the profile of water issues faced by the state, an invaluable outcome," Ajami said.

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