Damage Control: Easing Customer Concern In the Wake of Flint

July 13, 2016

In the wake of devastating water contamination in Flint, Michigan and countless other lead violations across America, consumers are mistrustful of the tap water their municipalities provide—and rightly so.

We’re still learning the human cost of the water crisis in Flint. A recent investigation by USA Today identified almost 2,000 additional water systems, spanning all 50 states, in which testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years. At least 180 of those systems have never notified consumers about the high lead levels.

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Data is at the core of this issue. Water crises are emerging across America, but the facts necessary to inform the public and make intelligent policy decisions are seriously lacking. Information about water availability, usage, and quality is remarkably inaccessible to the public. Moreover, it’s outdated and inaccurate. An analysis of water use in the US is only completed once every five years. The most current was issued in November of 2014for the year 2010.

The question today is: how can municipalities address consumer mistrust and work to restore confidence?

The only way to really know the quality of your water is to test it as it comes out of the faucet, according to environmental reporter Abraham Lustgarten. It seems that transparency could be a powerful tool for reestablishing trust. What if utilities encouraged folks to test their own water and made it easy to do so?

“People are legitimately concerned about what they’re hearing in the wake of Flint,” Lynn Thorp, of the advocacy group Clean Water Action told USA Today. “As long as we have lead in contact with drinking water, we can have exposure at the tap. Consumers need to become educated about any risks at their individual homes.”

Communication is key. And it seems that utilities that direct consumers to read the Clean Water Act Consumer Confidence Report for their municipality are wisely capitalizing on a valuable opportunity to engage customers in a dialogue about the safety of their water.

I recently received a notice in the mail from my water provider indicating that my Consumer Confidence Report was available. It guided me to the report’s web address. As a consumer, I have to say that the postcard and the reassurance it provided, meant a lot to me.

While it seems there’s no clear-cut solution to reestablishing confidence in the wake of crisis, I’m curious about whether this is an issue for you? What steps are your municipalities are taking to regain trust? 
About the Author

Laura Sanchez

Laura Sanchez is the editor of Distributed Energy and Water Efficiency magazines.