Prepping for field work

I came to the Nicholas School to learn how to work on environmental issues at a community level. I decided to undertake the Community-Based Environmental Management (CBEM) Certificate while getting a Master’s of Environmental Management (MEM). Through this certificate, I have been able to brainstorm how community would be involved in environmental management processes as well as work with some local organizations. Ultimately, I would like to work with minority or underrepresented communities either within the United States or abroad, but I was not sure if I would be able to have any hands-on experience while at the Nicholas School to prepare me for working in the real world.

Well, I do not have to worry about missing out on this practical experience anymore. Next week, I will be heading to northern Queensland with my two research supervisors to one of the RICES partner communities. We will be talking with community members and the council there to help them come up with some water reduction strategies.

Northern Queensland Red Clay
Partner community ocean views

This week, I am helping the team prep for our community field work which will happen during a 6-day trip in the coming week. We want to talk to the households who have participated in the program to update them on their water usage. In this Queensland community, 17 households had smart water meters installed on their lot to track their water use for a year. We will talk to the households about their individual water use data that we have collected and try to understand why they are using the water that they are.

Throughout this project and field work, we are collecting quantitative data and qualitative data. This upcoming trip into the community will allow us to get more individualized perspectives on reasons for high-water use in households and the community as a whole. It is important that we understand the cultural, societal, economic, practical reasons that a household uses thousands of liters of water to irrigate their garden, to wash off their verandahs or for their children to play in outside.

Interestingly enough, even though many of the participants for the project believed that indoor objects used the most water, the smart water meter data shows that outdoor taps by far used the most water in the majority of households. A few of the participating houses in the project use as much as about 4,000 liters (1,056 gallons) per person per day of outdoor water. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to about 400 buckets of water per person per day on just outdoor water. The average household in Australia only uses 340 L (90 gallons) per person per day. There are obviously specific reasons that are driving this large use and/or various barriers to why they are not reducing their outdoor water consumption. We are hoping to find out some of these drivers during our field work.

Because I am not a member of the community and a new face to the project, I have to be careful with my place during the field work. Though I would never intentionally treat this community like they are fish inside a fishbowl, my supervisors are trying to make sure that I am not viewing the community members like they are on display during the trip. The community members will probably be wary of me and my American accent, so I will be taking a backseat throughout the week. That does not mean that I won’t get to do anything, though. I will be there to observe the project, to help with note taking, to facilitate the community workshop and to do anything else that my research supervisors need. While I am a bit unprepared for the heat, humidity and dust of far-north Queensland during the dry season (even though it is winter), I am excited for a change of pace. See you on the other side of field work!