California’s Drought is a Communications and Policy Issue

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

Photo Credit: The International Rice Research Institute

In the face of California’s crippling drought, public agencies will have to employ wide-ranging strategies and tactics to educate, motivate, enforce, and reinforce messages about drastic water cutbacks.

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Their success or failure hinges on how they communicate to diverse audiences about managing water, a precious natural resource. In their dilemma, there are also communications lessons.

On Tuesday, California’s State Water Resources Board said residents used 13.5 percent less water against an April 2013 benchmark. This is a significant improvement over previous months, but it also shows a major gap in achieving the mandatory average 25 percent reduction in urban water use ordered by California Governor Jerry Brown. 

The drought has generated thousands of media stories and an unending stream of tweets and posts and sparked intense debate on what needs to be done. Water agencies, city managers, and other local elected officials will have to make major decisions, large and small, about how to urge residents to use much less, and conserve much more, water.

In this highly charged atmosphere, carefully developed communication strategies will be essential to get the public informed and accepting of the solutions required. Organizations will have to engage from the top down at the state level to coordinate messages and from the bottom up at the local level to make relevant, persuasive arguments.

State-level authorities must consistently communicate the need for cooperation through a coordinated, systematic and statewide approach.  Local water interests must develop their own communication programs that appeal to the residents and water users in the jurisdictions. Authorities overseeing water reduction must speak with culturally appropriate voices to residents from diverse backgrounds. Finally, local water interests will succeed from a grassroots approach that aims to be informative rather than punitive.

Eventually the rain and snow will fall. California will experience relief from this prolonged and painful drought. In the meantime, the drought is all but certain to result in future water policy, lifestyle, and societal changes. To what extent California’s lawmakers rewrite future rules hinges on how the state’s water users change behavior and habits now.

As California has done on other issues such as energy, healthcare, and education, the state has the opportunity to model a progressive problem-solving strategy. Impactful communications, thoughtfully implemented, will play a critical role in the success of that strategy. Lessons abound for PR professionals everywhere.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

irector at KP Public Affairs, a PR and lobbying firm based in California


  1. God help those politicians and bureaucrats should they have the slightest twinge of curiosity or determination to solve problems. We’ve been promoting a simple technology – well proven – that cuts tree, crop and landscape water demand by 20-25% and pumping energy by 10-13%. Combine the water saving with the direct energy saving, energy costs actually drop up to a 17% drop in energy cost – less water pumped cheaper. Try to get that across.

  2. Perhaps they should ‘communicate’ the role of Geoengineering in the California drought.

  3. askeptic says

    Two things the Left cannot get correct: Science, and Economics.
    Because both involve math, and “math is hard!”

  4. The bureaucrat who heads the EPA that force the dumping of 430,000 acre feet of water to save some fish ought to be publicly named, fired, tried and put in jail for his actions.

  5. Scott Fitzpatrick says

    First stop calling it a crippling draught! It is a Democratic forced draught. Just like Grey Davies electrical power grab (rolling Blackout) to control the California people!
    This draught is from extreme Liberal environmental activism- Over 99% of snow pack flows out to the ocean – This is caused by the endangered species act.
    We cannot build and maintain reservoirs and aqua ducts because millions of dollars have to be spent on Environmental impact studies first- this can take years to complete. Then Liberal Environmental groups can challenge EIS reports. Thus successfully stopping work on reservoirs and aqua ducts.
    To give an example how extreme these groups are! Remember the California Bark beetle? Well when the bark beetle infested Arrowhead and Big Bear- Environmental groups fought to block the harvesting and removal of Bark Beetle infested trees- End Result- 40 million in costs to fight fire, and untold amount in lost homes as well as 4 precious lives. I know they blame it on Santa Anna winds- However when you have thousands upon thousands of dead pine trees killed off by the bark beetle- the kindling is now set to burn up.
    This shortage of water is no different.
    We cannot capture snow pack run off, we cannot build desalinization plants, we cannot pipe in more water- why? All because of the whacked out liberal democrat waving the flag of eco terrorism. Oh but it is okay to spend billions on a bullet train from LA to San Fran.

  6. The best way to solve CA problems is to run the demoncraps out, then shut down the EPA. Voila’ Problems solved.

    • Scott Fitzpatrick says

      Yes we need to send all the democraps back to New York or Chicago and then build a wall around it!

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