An early career research report on Communicating water availability to improve awareness and the implementation of water conservation measures.
Historical records show that Ireland has experienced approximately 45 droughts since 1850 of which, 22 were short-term droughts (less than 10 months), 19 medium-term (10-20 months) and 4 long-term (over 20 months). The summer of 2018 was recorded as the driest summer in the country in 56 years with heatwaves recorded at 15 meteorological stations. Low water level records were documented across many rivers during the dry spells. Ireland’s first ever water conservation order (hosepipe ban) was implemented from 6th July to 31st July for domestic public water supplies and commercial premises for non-commercial activities. In July 2020, a second water conservation order was implemented from the 9th June to the 8th July due to stress on available water resources and limited rainfall.
The research analysed social media (Twitter and Facebook) communication and newspaper publications from 2018 to 2020 on water conservation and drought events, in addition, to undertaking six key stakeholder interviews made up of journalists (n = 4), political representatives (n = 1), and a water and communication expert (n = 1).
Irish newspapers coverage of drought and water availability was greater in 2018 compared to 2020. Uncertainty and risk were identified as the prevalent frames used by newspapers to cover drought events. Although the sentiments in communications on drought by the national utility, Irish Water, were scored as positive (63%), its engagement with the public on social media was considerably limited. Accessible information platforms that provide data and information on water resources were found but improvements in public communication regarding water availability and drought conditions are required. The publics responses to water conservation communications reveal a perception that Ireland is a wet country that should not be perturbed by water conservation.
- Key recommendations include:
- A consolidated National Integrated Drought Information System is needed that would coordinate, monitor, forecast, plan, and inform regional drought actions.
- Regular media (i.e. print and electronic) coverage of drought events to increase public interest and conservation action using a collaborative approach involving Irish Water, the media, policy makers and the Water Forum is recommended.
- Local authorities should be empowered to develop regional drought plans to feed into a national drought plans to address preparedness, responses and recovery to bolster adaptation and mitigation.
Authors: Sarpong Hammond, Suzanne Linnane, David Getty (Centre for Freshwater and Environmental Studies, DKIT) and Alec Rolston (Goyder Institute for Water Research, Adelaide, Australia)