I’ve got water on my mind and the recent headlines from Rio are only part of the reason. By now, we’ve all read the news. Rio’s waters are teeming with such high levels of viruses and bacteria that some reports say athletes have a 99 percent chance of infection if they swallow just three teaspoons of water.
Brazil isn’t the only country with water quality issues. I grew up in India where my family got our drinking water from a communal tap outside our flat that ran specially filtered water for a few hours each day. My mother would then boil the water and run it through a filter before allowing us to take a sip. These were necessary steps in a country that has the dubious honor of having the world’s worst water quality.
But water quality issues are not restricted to developing countries. Access to clean water is a concern in developed nations around the world, including the United States, where the Flint water crisis focused the country’s collective attention on national water quality issues. The resulting scrutiny also uncovered that as many as 33 U.S. cities have used water testing methods that could conceal dangerous levels of lead. A recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters showed that millions of Americans could be drinking water with unsafe levels of industrial chemicals.
Not surprisingly, a 2016 poll revealed that only half of Americans are “very confident” that their tap water is safe to drink.
In the aftermath of the Flint water crisis, Vanguard launched a water filter drive last May, purchasing 80 filters and filter replacement packs for the families of Flint in partnership with our extended networks. While supportive actions are beneficial to the issue, it is important to note that after the water crisis in Flint, many water utility companies have begun communicating proactively with their customers about water quality in order to rebuild public trust and head off concerns at the pass. Here are a few ways they are communicating with their customers about water quality:
The general manager of DC Water wrote an op-ed reassuring residents of the District’s water quality while detailing steps the District has taken to remove lead pipes from the city. By writing an op-ed, DC Water was able to proactively reassure customers that the issue was being monitored while also controlling the message they were sending residents.
Milwaukee sent notices to as many as 70,000 customers with lead service lines warning them of the dangers of lead exposure. The letters also spelled out ways customers could reduce their personal exposure. In situations of heightened anxiety, when people are actively seeking more information, personalized mailings are a good way to keep customers appraised of how companies are handling the issue and deliver educational messages that are likely to be heeded.
Some water utilities are harnessing the power of social media to communicate effectively with their customers about water safety, service updates and rate changes. As more people take to using social media to speak with companies, the different digital platforms are a great tool for utility companies to speak directly with their audience, hear from them, provide regular updates and offer real-time customer care.
As we celebrate National Water Quality Month this August, there’s no doubt more needs to be done to raise the quality of water in the United States. But it is encouraging to see the steps some water utilities companies are taking to educate their customers and be more transparent with them about possible contaminants. Here’s hoping many more follow suit.