Mr. Jagannath

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SPOTLIGHT

Water quality and conservation
Although agriculture and industry are the
thirstiest of all water consumers, household
water use accounts for some 10-30% of total
consumption in developed countries. As
governments develop strategies to promote
water conservation, an OECD survey of
households conducted in 2008 offers
insight into what really works. Based on
some 10,000 responses across 10 countries,
the answer is as clear as what comes out of
the tap: having to pay for water encourages
water-saving behaviour and investment
in water-saving appliances, thus reducing
consumption.

1. Taste healthy?
% of respondents, satisfied and dissatisfied with their tap water, by country

100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20

The survey finds that water charges affect
consumption: households that are charged
according to how much water they use
consume an average of 25% less water than
those households that either pay a flat fee or

Mexico

Korea

Italy

Canada

France

Australia

Czech
Republic

Sweden

Netherlands

% satisfied with their tap water

of those dissatisfied - % having taste concern

of those dissatisfied - % having health concern

Source: OECD

2. Bottled taste

3. Cleaner water behaviour

Reasons for buying bottled water, health being the main
incentive, concern about waste being a disincentive

% of respondents with water efficient equipment,
depending on water charges

0.5

70%

0.4

60%

0.3
50%

0.2
0.1

40%

0

30%

-0.1

20%

-0.2
10%

-0.3
-0.4

No charge
Source: OECD

have free access to water services. People
who pay by volume of water used also tend
to be more likely to conserve water by
turning off the tap while brushing their
teeth, collecting rainwater or recycling
wastewater. They are also more likely to
have water-efficient devices, such as
washing machines that use less water,
dual-flush toilets or water-flow restrictors

Water flow
restrictor taps/
low-flow
shower head

Low volume
or dual
flush toilets

Water efficient
washing
machine

Trust govt

Taste

Health

Waste concern

Water charge

Car ownership

0%

Income

People who are dissatisfied with their tap
water can either demand improvements
in public water services and/or switch to
bottled water for drinking. On the one
hand, households were willing to pay an
average of €14 more per year for further
improvements to public tap water quality.
On the other hand, people who choose to
buy bottled water do so for health reasons,
though also for reasons of taste and because
they can afford it (graph 2). They are also
more likely to own a car–the easiest way to
bring the bottles back home. But concern
about plastic waste puts people off bottled
water, the survey suggests.

0

Norway

10

People’s perceptions of tap water quality is
a good place to start. The survey finds that
two thirds of the respondent households
drink tap water regularly. Moreover, the
greatest satisfaction with the quality
of tap water is reported in the densely
populated Netherlands, though Swedes
and Norwegians also report being highly
satisfied with the quality of their tap water,
whereas Canadians report lower satisfaction
(graph 1). Where satisfaction was low, in
some countries, such as France, this largely
reflected concerns about taste, whereas in
Korea and Mexico potential health impacts
were the main concern. How much the
subjective opinions in the survey relate to
objective criteria of water quality demands
more research.

Flat water fee

Variable water charge

Source: OECD

(see graph 3). Australians, who face severe
water scarcity in their country, report
particularly high levels of investment
in such equipment.
More survey results are available at
www.oecd.org/environment/households. For more
information, contact Yse.Serret@oecd.org or
Nick.Johnstone@oecd.org

OECD Observer No...
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