Water is essential to life because it heavily influences public health and living standard. However, water is unequally distributed throughout the world. At present, approximately 1.2 billion people live in areas wherein water is scarce and 1.6 billion people face economic water shortage [1
]. Therefore, the World Health Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, various governments, and public and private sector entities have exerted intensive efforts to provide sufficient water supply to residents, particularly in rural areas in developing countries [2
]. Over 2 billion people have gained access to improved water supplies since 1990. The percentage of the world’s population that has access to drinking water has increased from 77% to 89% between 1990 and 2010. This percentage is expected to increase further to 92% by 2015 to meet the drinking-water target of the Millennium Development Goals, i.e.
, halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water (compared to base year 1990) by 2015 [3
]. Meanwhile, the United Nations estimates that the domestic water consumption of developing countries is expected to increase by over 50% because of improvements in water supply, living standards, and water appliances [4
]. As a result, given the unpredictable global demand for water, serious and chronic water shortages may still persist in developing countries [1
The water supplies of major Indian cities are projected to run dry by 2020 according to the World Bank [5
], and half of the 662 cities in China will have insufficient water supply, with 110 cities experiencing severe water shortage [6
]. Governments have now begun imposing restrictive policies to reduce water demand and resolve issues related to water shortage. The intermittent mode of water supply in many developing countries has been criticized in [7
], thus urging governments and NGOs to reduce water demand by improving water conservation awareness and promoting water conservation behavior [8
A study in Australia reported that the water consumption of Melbourne have been reduced by 57% through education and public awareness campaigns [9
]. Abdul-Razzak and Ali-Khan [10
] reported an 18% (about 17 liters per person per day) decrease in water consumption in Zaragoza, Spain, because of improved water conservation awareness. The 20% reduction in the water consumption of California residents is also attributed to water conservation awareness programs [11
]. Dolnicar et al.
] suggested that several factors affect water conservation behavior. These factors include environmental attitudes [13
] and a range of demographic variables, including gender, age [15
], education [16
], and information transparency of water consumption, which is the strongest factor.
An improved understanding of daily water consumption practices will encourage consumers to adopt water conservation behavior [12
]. Studies have shown that people often have misconceptions on actual water consumption [17
]. Some users tend to underestimate their water consumption [19
]. However, studies are lacking on consumer misconceptions regarding actual water consumption on specific water-use patterns and their relation to the socio-demographic profiles of users and household conservation awareness [17
The objectives of our study are as follows: (1) identify which part of household water consumption is usually underestimated and (2) discover the differences in socio-demographic profiles, conservation awareness, and conservation practices among groups. These objectives can be achieved by analyzing the water consumption patterns of households located in the rural Wei River Basin in China.
Many studies have confirmed that water conservation attitudes and behavior are closely related [23
]. Some studies have revealed that residents with positive attitudes may not always exhibit positive behavior [33
]. This finding reveals that a big gap exists between attitude and behavior. The reasons behind such a gap include water-use habits, price, water-saving behavior information, water consumption perception, and trust in authorities. Corral-Verdugo et al.
] emphasized the importance of public perception on water consumption because this perception helps develop attitudes and behavior that lead to water conservation. If residents have false perceptions of water consumption, water-saving methods such as proper education to change behavior and the use of water-saving devices to improve efficiency will be unsuccessful [34
]. Although the water use activities of families are repeatedly performed every day, the participants in this study exhibit little knowledge about the water consumption of certain activities. Our findings confirm the results of previous studies, i.e.
, big gaps exist between perceived and actual water consumption [17
Water-use patterns are divided into indoor use (drinking, personal hygiene, kitchen use, and laundry) and outdoor use (vegetable garden, livestock, and house and yard cleaning) [7
]. The current study presented residents with different estimated water-use activities, such as easily overestimated indoor water-use patterns and underestimated outdoor water-use patterns. Indoor water-use activities consumed less water than outdoor water-use activities even though the former was more frequently performed than the latter [22
]. Residents commonly perceive that their indoor water-use activities expend more water than their actual consumption. Moreover, residents easily disregard their actual outdoor water use for vegetable gardening and house and yard cleaning because of arbitrary outdoor water consumption [35
]. Kitchen water consumption includes fruit washing, food preparation, and cleaning utensils and tableware. Overlooking other water activities in the kitchen can lead to the underestimation of water consumption among female participants. Furthermore, males also tend to underestimate their kitchen water consumption because they seldom participate in kitchen activities in rural developing countries [36
]. Residents show good perception of water consumption for laundry because water consumed with regular vessels can be easily estimated.
The Department of Sustainability and Environment (2005) indicated that water conservation behavior and attitudes heavily rely on the perception of residents regarding water resource and usage [19
]. The water conservation consciousness of the accurate estimation group is higher than those of the overestimation and underestimation groups. Moreover, the Water Services Association of Australia found that the majority of households underestimate their water consumption, thus leading to wastage [38
]. Our study verified that the underestimation groups usually observe fewer conservation practices and consumed more water than the overestimation and accurate estimation groups. The water consumption, conservation consciousness, and water-use practices of residents in the rural Wei River Basin are highly affected by their own perception of water consumption. Moreover, large disparities were found in the perceived and actual water use among residents across gender, age, education, and income groups. Females and elderly users easily overestimate their water consumption compared with males and younger users because the former resident group performs more water activities in rural households than the latter resident group [22
]. Residents with high income and educational levels easily underestimate their own consumption. These groups usually have a number of appliances that consume water for operation (washing machine, solar water heater, etc.
) and outdoor activities, such as household and yard cleaning and vegetable and garden watering. The members of this group consume more water than the other groups and are not concerned with their water bills, thus leading to water consumption underestimation. Residents are unaware of these aspects of water use, thus increasing their overall consumption. Almost half of the water consumption is allotted for outdoor use, particularly in the high water consumption group [35
]. Therefore, ensuring that consumers are well informed about the actual amount of water use, particularly for high income and well-educated groups, is important in changing this group’s attitude and behavior toward water conservation.