Research survey looks at 'human side' of Utah's water management

Published: Wednesday, May 28 2014 12:46 p.m. MDT

Utahns in the Cache, Salt Lake and Heber valleys are being surveyed as part of a study that looks at how residential diversity affects water use.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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LOGAN — Residents in the Cache, Salt Lake and Heber valleys may hear a knock on the door in the coming months from scientists hoping to learn how water is used and valued across a variety of neighborhoods.

Researchers at Utah State University and the University of Utah, as well as other institutions, are teaming up on the study.

"The overall project is interested in understanding more about how people who live in different kinds of neighborhoods use water and think about water issues," said Douglas Jackson-Smith, a USU professor of sociology and one of the study's co-principal investigators. "The survey asks questions about water use and water decision-making — what kinds of factors are people thinking about when they make decisions about water and landscaping."

The project is part of a larger study funded by the National Science Foundation called iUTAH, a five-year $20 million study that seeks to maintain and improve water sustainability in Utah. Findings of the study will be used to inform policy makers and local municipalities of the "human side" of water management, Jackson-Smith said.

The survey will reach out to about 150 randomly selected homes from 21 neighborhoods in the three valleys. Teams of students will go door-to-door and ask residents to complete the survey, which students will collect a few days later.

Jackson-Smith says the door-to-door survey method helps researchers gather more accurate information and produces a higher response rate than mailed surveys.

Surveys have begun for Logan, North Logan, River Heights, Providence and Nibley in Cache County. Salt Lake City, Millcreek and communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley will be surveyed starting in early June through July. Heber City and Midway will see survey teams in July.

"It's critical of our study to capture the diversity," Jackson-Smith said. "We don't think there's one way people approach water issues. We don't think there's a right way and a wrong way. It's just interesting to see how much a neighborhood setting affects how household members use water."

Survey collaborator Philip Stoker, a graduate student in the city and metropolitan planning department at the U., says the information will be made available to local policymakers while ensuring participant confidentiality.

"We're going to be putting a lot of focus on education and outreach once we have collected this data," Stoker said. "We'll be continuing to work with our collaborators — different municipalities and public utilities in the region.

"One thing I'm interested in is how people's attitudes, behaviors and values affect their water use in cities," he said.

Mark Nielsen, public works director for Logan, says the survey could help the city officials to educate rather than enforce wise water use practices among citizens.

"We have people using two to three times as much water to irrigate their grass as they should, which happens all over Utah. But that's just part of the struggle we have," Nielsen said. "We hope (the survey) gives us some information that we'll be able to use for identifying conservation measures. Hopefully, we can plan some education programs and things that will help people."

Jackson-Smith expects the surveys to be complete in July and results made available to respondents and local municipalities soon afterward. More detailed reports will be provided through the coming winter.

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com

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