August is National Water Quality Month and is dedicated to protecting the natural resources we love for recreation but also to make the connection between that resource and the high-quality water we drink and use every day. It’s a timely opportunity to address the imbalance between the true cost of water and the perceived value of water by the public. Water utilities can capitalize on this teaching moment by opening the lines of communication with residents to raise awareness of the time, talent, and investment required to produce safe, clean drinking water and to provide sanitation services.
NOTHING IN LIFE IS FREE.
For water industry professionals, it’s often difficult to unlearn what we know in order to put ourselves in the proverbial “shoes” of our customers. In order to effectively communicate water’s true value, we have to remove the preconceived notions and assumptions we hold about how our customers define water’s value. The water quality of the natural resources used for drinking water reservoirs are part of the water quality equation, however, most people don’t readily make that connection. They also fail to immediately recognize their impacts on those resources.
People spend all summer enjoying the outdoors at beaches, parks, lakes, and rivers. Many natural water bodies are considered “impaired” under the Clean Water Act. People hear this and often times scoff or shake their heads while they mutter away the blame to someone else. They fail to connect the direct impact they have on the health of these bodies of water. Many don’t realize these bodies of water are also the source of their drinking water. Water free falls from the skies, but it isn’t free of pollution, potentially harmful bacteria or pathogens.
Many customers aren’t aware that irrigation water is the same water that comes out of the tap or that it is treated to the same EPA-regulated standards by the local utility. This disconnect creates confusion when the summer heat triggers higher demand in outdoor water use resulting in higher water bills. Summertime often means concerned, confused, or downright angry phone calls from residents. To add to the confusion, customer service representatives are tasked with explaining that the water bills they’re contesting represent water use from the thirty days prior. Diminishing lake levels caused by increased water demand in the summer can exacerbate any existing water quality issues as well.
RAISE A GLASS
These disconnects can be alleviated through proactive, consistent public education and outreach efforts. Here are some ways your team can bridge the gap between the true cost of water and it’s perceived value by your customer. Use National Water Quality Month as an opportunity to celebrate with your community.
- Promote your residents to read your drinking water quality report. Create a break down of what this report means and point out positive aspects to your report.
- Use social media and create a video or develop a contest/quiz that residents can engage with. Give them opportunities to ask questions in a Q&A session. Did your utility get a superior rating? No violations? An award for best tasting water? Celebrate this with your residents.
- Give insight as to how many tests your staff performs monthly/daily.
- Highlight the employees who are ensuring excellent water quality for residents.
There’s not much a resident can do in terms of treating their water. However, you can remind them of the huge impact they have on the overall quality of health of their local waterways. Explain the damage that pollution can cause in the ecosystems naturally present in and around water bodies and how they act as the first line of defense for drinking water. Most people don’t realize that common household items such as pesticides, fertilizers, even grass clippings are some of the main culprits related to urban water pollution. Partner with your stormwater staff to show residents how using native and adapted plants not only reduces their impact on water quality but also creates a less water-intensive landscape.
This is the perfect month to kickstart a commitment in your community to reconnect with their waterways and create a positive impact on their environment. Encourage groups to gather for a specific litter cleanup event or task individuals to pick up trash as they go about their normal routine. Water quality begins with awareness and that can be as simple as looking down and picking up the trash around you.