A Wall Street Journal article (login required) published last weekend reports there is a “crisis of confidence in America’s tap water,” citing statistics from a Penn State University researcher.
As with many things, the level of confidence in tap water depends on who you ask. A recent survey conducted by the American Water Works Association and Morning Consult says overall confidence in drinking water is high, but lower in the Black and Hispanic communities. In fact, more than seven in 10 Americans (71%) served by a water utility say they are satisfied with their tap water. A similar amount (68%) rated the quality of their tap water as “excellent” or “good.”
What’s interesting is that both the Wall Street Journal article and the AWWA/Morning Consult poll note a lower level of confidence among Black and Hispanic people. There are likely multiple reasons. Many Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have aging infrastructure that can lead to water reliability or quality problems. Research has also shown that there is generally lower trust among Black and Hispanic people than White people.
Hopefully, in the United States and throughout North America, we will take bold steps to close the gap in trust. One of the best ways to do that is to reinvest – as individuals and at all levels of government -- in water infrastructure in neighborhoods that need it.
One other noteworthy item from the AWWA/Morning Consult poll. The survey indicated higher satisfaction (85%) among people who recall receiving communication from their water utility in addition to their bill in the last year. This includes those who report their water as safe (86%) and those who say their water quality is excellent/good (84%). So in addition to investing in pipes and treatment, water utilities need to invest time and resources in talking to their communities.
With improved communication and significant investment in water infrastructure, utilities can secure and maintain their consumers’ trust and build productive relationships into the future.