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The shifting value of water throughout generations

As published in Lake Travis View, May 2024

Water is a vital resource, for both essential and indulgent purposes, yet how Americans use and value it can vary significantly across generations. Recent studies and surveys reveal distinct patterns in water consumption among different age groups shaped by the historical context, values, and technology of their formative years. From automatically turning off the tap while brushing teeth to implementing technology to aid in data-driven decisions, unconsciously held attitudes shape our perceptions, actions and decisions. Fortunately, these habits can be challenged for greater intergenerational collaboration toward more equitable solutions that benefit everyone now and for generations to come.

Greatest Generation and Traditionalists: Frugality meets abundance

Both the Greatest Generation, born between 1901 and 1927, and the Traditionalist generation, also known as the Silent Generation, born between 1928 and 1945, were profoundly shaped by the economic hardships of the Great Depression and World War II. These experiences instilled a sense of frugality and practicality early in life, however, during their adulthood, the United States saw significant industrial and technological advancements, leading to increased water availability and infrastructure development. Environmental concerns were not as prominent, and water was often seen as an abundant resource. Consequently, the water use habits of these generations were shaped by a combination of early life scarcity and later life abundance. According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, pre-Baby Boomer generations use about 80 gallons of water per person per day. This figure is lower than that of Baby Boomers, but higher than younger generations.

Studies reveal distinct patterns in water consumption among different age groups shaped by the historical context, values, and technology of their formative years. Image by Christelle Prieur from Pixabay

Baby Boomers: Practical use over conservation

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers have experienced significant cultural shifts in environmental attitudes over their lifetimes, but tend to maintain water use habits formed during a period of perceived abundance in supply with less environmental regulation. According to a 2023 survey by the American Water Works Association, 65% of Baby Boomers view water as a critical resource, but only 45% actively engage in routine water conservation practices beyond basic measures like fixing leaks and reducing usage during droughts. Their statistical average of 100 gallons of water per person per day is characterized by substantial outdoor activities, such as lawn watering and car washing, with only 25% implementing water-efficient technologies.

Generation X: Balancing efficiency, practicality

Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, grew up during a period of economic stability and technological boom, providing access to more advanced household appliances and conveniences. Consequently, they adopt a balanced approach to water use, integrating both traditional practices and modern efficiency measures. Their pragmatic approach often involves cost-benefit analyses, reflecting their financial responsibilities and focus on household management. This generation uses about 90 gallons of water per person per day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2022 data.

[Generations Z and Alpha] have the potential to make the most robust commitment to water conservation.

Lakeway MUD

Millennials: Leading the charge in sustainability

Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, were exposed to conservation campaigns from a young age, having grown up during a time marked by heightened awareness of environmental issues and the beginning of advanced technologies. As such, they tend to place a higher value than previous generations on implementing sustainable living practices, taking a proactive stance by investing time and resources into long-term environmental solutions. The EPA’s 2022 report indicates that Millennials use about 75 gallons of water per person per day.

Generations Z and Alpha: Tech-savvy, environmentally conscious

Generation Z, or iGen, born from 1997 to 2010, and Generation Alpha, born between 2010-2024, are growing up in an era of digital connectivity and heightened climate activism. These generations have the potential to make the most robust commitment to water conservation. A 2023 report by the National Environmental Education Foundation suggests 90% of respondents from these generations do or will monitor their water usage through apps and utilize social media to spread awareness and mobilize action on water issues. Their commitments are driven by a deeper understanding and desire to mitigate the environmental challenges ahead.

Bridging the generational gap

While the differences in water conservation values among these generations are pronounced, there are opportunities for collaboration. Intergenerational outreach efforts that leverage the practical experiences of Generation X and prior generations, the advocacy skills of Millennials, and the digital savviness of Generation Z and beyond could create a comprehensive approach to increasing the value of water and methods for conserving it.

Education and commitment can lead to a more sustainable future for our water resources. It starts by fixing leaks since even small drips from faucets and toilets can waste a significant amount of water over time. Installing water-efficient fixtures, such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, can dramatically cut water usage without sacrificing routines. Additionally, practicing mindful water habits, like turning off the tap while brushing teeth and shortening shower times, can make a big difference. For the largest savings, think outdoors: consider reducing lawn size by installing more drought-tolerant, native plants and use mulch to retain soil moisture, installing a rain barrel for watering plants, and utilizing smart irrigation technology that uses weather and soil moisture data to determine the irrigation needs of the landscape. Pools should also be covered when not in use to minimize evaporation. By adopting these simple yet effective strategies, everyone can contribute to conserving water, a vital resource.

Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for the Lakeway Municipal Utility District. Earl Foster is the general manager of LMUD.