Clueless But Contented: Canadians and Water

By Lynn Patterson

Lynn Patterson has more than twenty years experience in corporate communications and belongs to the International Association for Business Communicators. She is a popular speaker, panellist and moderator at national and international sustainability and communications conferences, and is an IABC “All Star” Speaker.

May 13, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

I’m lucky enough to hold the budget (and the pen) on the only national poll of Canadians about their attitudes towards water, so I take advantage of this annual opportunity to ask some oddball questions of my own that have taken root in the back of my head.

So in the 2013 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, I asked questions like this one: who reorganizes the dishwasher in your house because they think that others don’t load it properly?  Oh, you know someone does it, and in the interests of full disclosure—I’m the re-loader in my house. Here are two pictures (not staged, I promise) that show my dishwasher. One shows how my partner loads it, and the other shows how it’s done properly.

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”center” alt=”Dishwasher filled incorrectly” title=”Dishwasher filled incorrectly” width=”284″]https://meetingoftheminds.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Dish-washer-filled-incorrectly1.jpg[/image_frame]

[image_frame style=”framed_shadow” align=”center” alt=”Dishwasher filled correctly” title=”Dishwasher filled correctly” width=”284″]https://meetingoftheminds.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Dish-washer-filled-correctly.jpg[/image_frame]

I wanted to ask this question in our poll because I hoped the results would discover an entire, hidden class of tidy, rule-following Canadians (like me) whose chronic reloading practices were helping save water, energy and money.  And lo and behold, 37% of us reload the dishwasher…that’s almost 4 out of 10 households with reloaders!

But get this: only 13% of Canadians have an inkling that someone in their house is re-doing their work. That, I totally get. I wait until my partner Terry is out of the kitchen before my re-loading begins, which I have to confess, I undertake with an attitude that’s half exasperation and half self-righteousness.

Shameful secrets

We cover a range of water issues in the poll and ask about shameful water behaviours like: Who takes the longest showers? What water-wasting behaviours are the most irritating? Who is most embarrassed to order tap water in restaurants? How many people take an extra-long shower just to relax?  (The answers: young people 18-34; when people water down their driveway in the summer; young Torontonians and 21% of all Canadians).

Love that driveway!

Some of the questions in our poll might look oddball on the surface, but our more serious ones actually expose some deeper-rooted misconceptions about water in Canada.

For example, one of the biggest sources of water pollution in urbanized areas is when storm water runs off hard, impermeable surfaces like roads, parking lots, buildings and driveways.

Turns out that almost half of Canadians prefer a paved (impermeable) driveway, rather than grass or permeable paving stones. This makes sense in Canada, I suppose, given it’s probably easier to shovel snow from an evenly-paved surface than from cobble stones. (I live in a condo, so what do I know?).  But even after hearing that permeable surfaces reduce the negative implications of storm water runoff, 53% of the paved driveway-lovers said they wouldn’t part with their pavement. That number increases significantly among men over 55: go figure.

Municipal Infrastructure

We hope our annual poll provides useful information to those who are responsible for maintaining our municipal water systems (and incidentally, 84% of Canadians think their municipality is doing a good job of providing good quality water).

Here’s a finding that surprised us. A whopping 78% of Canadians think that their local water infrastructure is in good condition, needing only minor investment for upkeep. That may not be a surprising statistic, but it’s a real head-scratcher when you consider that four out of ten (42%) confess that they’re actually not very aware of the condition of the water and sewage infrastructure serving their home. So what exactly are they basing their opinions on, one has to wonder? And given this, how hard will it be for municipalities to defend and pay for the estimated $80 billion  required to replace drinking water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure that’s been identified by municipalities themselves as “less than good.”

For more on this, visit Canada as the Water Solutions Country: Defining the Opportunities

In many municipalities, water distribution and sewage pipes can be up to 80 years old and have already reached the end of their service life. Yet investments in water infrastructure maintenance are chronically underfunded and often deferred, even in the best of economic times, falling victim to the ‘no new taxes’ environment that is so much a part of today’s political landscape.

Cost of water

Our study also showed that Canadians (at least those on municipal water systems) don’t really have a sense of the true value of water.  This is no surprise.  Of the 81 per cent of Canadians that rely on municipal water services, only 40% are charged for the amount of water they use. Of the rest:

  • 10% don’t know how they are charged for water
  • 18% pay a fixed amount regardless of how much they use and
  • 33% say their costs are built into their rent or condo fees.

When it comes to awareness about water issues, our annual RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, which we do with Canadian pollster, GlobeScan, shows that it’s often a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  In fact, I was describing our poll findings to a friend at RBC who’s a financial planner. She says she sees the very same trend in her line of work, with people who don’t think about saving for retirement until it’s almost too late, and then the panic sets in! I hate to think of what it might take for Canadians to realize we can’t afford to take water for granted.

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

Multi-modal Transit and the Public Realm

More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.

We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Cross Sectoral Partnerships Can Fight Human Trafficking

Dedicated anti-trafficking actors across the nation are trying to build better systems in big jurisdictions like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and in smaller but scrappy jurisdictions like Waco, Texas and Boaz, Alabama. They all share the same need, for stronger interconnectedness as an anti-trafficking field, and more collaboration.

The Forging Freedom Portal is a one-stop shop where a police officer planning a victim-centered operation can connect with their law enforcement counterparts, and the right service providers ahead of time, collaborating to make sure they’re planning for the language skills, social services, and legal support that victims may need. The portal is a place where the people who care most about ending human trafficking, who are doing the hard work every day on the ground, can learn from each other and share best practices to raise the collective standard of this work.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This