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Adaptation option

Water restrictions and consumption cuts

Water restriction limit certain uses of water for example irrigation of lawns, car washing, filling swimming pools, or hosing down pavement areas. Restrictions can limit the availability of water in terms of volume and/or the time when it can be used and its purpose. Water rationing include usually temporary suspension of water supply, or reduction of pressure below that required for adequate supply under normal conditions. Rationing is associated with equitable distribution of critically limited water supplies in a way that ensure sufficient water is delivered to preserve public health and safety. Water restrictions and, to a lesser extent, rationing are frequently used especially in situations of temporary water scarcity (e.g. due to drought episodes). Both rationing and restriction that may be of temporal or permanent character, they allow local or even regional or national administration to cope with water crises, by reducing consumptions without substantial changes in the demand and supply ratio. Whenever those temporary low-cost coping measures are removed, water demand and use are expected to raise again return to previous levels. In case of persistent or recurrent scarcity other measures should be preferred to be implemented and maintained in the long-term: water saving measures to reduce water demand and/or more traditional strategies to increase water supplies, such as rain water harvesting, grey-water recycling, desalination.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details



IPCC categories

Social: Behavioural

Stakeholder participation

Stakeholder participation of various actors (water managers, industries, citizens, policy makers) is needed to facilitate adoption and implementation. Besides the possibilities for direct control and enforcement by public authorities, stakeholder involvement is crucial for broad and proper implementation and fine tuning of the measure to obtain the highest possible effectiveness.

Success and Limiting Factors

General water restrictions which equally affect all consumers can have low economic efficiency. The diverse consumers hold different marginal values for the same use and these differences are amplified across different water uses. More effectiveness can be found in targeted measures based upon adequate quantification of expected effects. For example measures can be designed with progressive restrictions for different uses, depending of the water deficit. Success factors are the conscious involvement of stakeholders and of the general public and the legal power to enact the water restrictions to the society.

Costs and Benefits

Compulsory water restrictions can produce significant water savings in a short time, comparable only to significant price increases. Restrictions are usually favoured over economic instruments (e.g. water pricing) in temporary situations with critically limited water supplies. In case of economic instruments, it has been shown that the elasticity depends on household income (higher price elasticity has been observed in low-income households), family size, age and other demographic characteristics. The outdoor consumption is usually more sensitive to price changes and easier to control. The results of studies vary considerably, While a number of studies focus on the price-elasticity (how consumption respond to price changes), less is known about the income elasticity, that is, how the demand reacts to the increases in income. A successful mix of demand management options decreases households’ expenses, which, as an unintended outcome, in case of positive income elasticity may translate into higher water consumption. In addition, studies have shown that residents are willing to pay for improved water services and to avoid compulsory water rationalising and restriction. The willingness to pay, however, may be significant only to avoid more severe restrictions. A comprehensive economic assessment of the measure should consider also the indirect effects of compulsory restrictions such as a ban of irrigation of lawns or filling swimming pools. In those cases, for example, the foregone leisure time/activities with welfare effects. Moreover, compulsory restriction are associated with significant enforcement costs, to be considered for their effect on society welfare.

The Water Framework Directive can orient competent administrations towards water saving in general. Art 9 (water pricing) of the WFD can be implemented in combination with restrictions. Drought Management plans, which can also be subject to the Program of Measures normally include restrictions and methods for rationing in the case of drought events.

Implementation Time

Less than 1 year.

Life Time

Less than 1 year.

Reference information

DG ENV project ClimWatAdapt

Published in Climate-ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT Mar 04 2020

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