A new guide for communicating with customers on source water protection
In national polls, American consistently rank drinking water quality and safety as a top environmental concern. At the same time, polls also reveal that few Americans actually know where their drinking water originates. These facts highlight how important it is for drinking water utilities to communicate regularly with their customers. Ratepayers who understand and care about their drinking water supply are more likely to support the utility’s source water protection efforts.
Finding the right means to reach customers and deciding what to say may seem like a challenge, though. That’s why the American Water Works Association (AWWA) commissioned a report to help small- and medium-sized utilities more effectively communicate on source water protection issues in their Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs). The CCR is a unique opportunity to connect with and educate customers since every utility is required to send one to every customer each year.
The Geos Institute was selected to write the guidance document and the final report “Communicating Source Water Protection Efforts in Consumer Confidence Reports” is now available. *The report is available online to AWWA members only until October 2018. Thereafter it will be free to the general public for download.
The guidance document contains advice on source water protection topics to include in every CCR, why, and successful communication tips. Examples from actual CCRs published around the country are provided for reference.
The report was crafted with small- and medium-sized utilities in mind but the advice can be used by utilities of any size. It encourages all drinking water providers to share protection information that goes above and beyond what’s required by law and lists four things that should be included in every CCR:
- Describe the source area. Do not simply name the source and availability of a source water assessment. Make use of personal stories, maps, illustrations, and graphics to help the reader appreciate the source of their drinking water and its relationship to the community.
- Explain why it matters to protect the source area. There are many good reasons for pursuing source water protection, from protecting public health to saving money and enhancing fish and wildlife populations. Talk about these reasons – consider featuring different aspects over time – in terms of the utility’s work and the community’s values for the source area.
- Underscore the utility’s commitment to source water protection. The utility or municipality should demonstrate that it takes a proactive, organized, and serious approach to source water protection, reflecting the valuable nature of the resource. There are two main ways to communicate this: articulate a vision or goal for source water protection and give specific examples of how you are protecting the source area.
- Offer clear ways for customers to help protect the drinking water source. Point to additional resources for engaging in source water protection activities, such as volunteer tree-planting events or educational tours of the area, and offer tips that individuals, households, and businesses can make to reduce their water use and pollution.
The CCR is an important, but often overlooked, communications channel for utilities to inform customers about their drinking water source and inspire good stewardship. The new AWWA guidance document can help utilities of all sizes to write more effective CCRs. After all, source water protection is a big job and no single organization or person can do it on their own.