The Water Main Presents Research on How Americans Relate to Water: Want to Engage Them? Start With What Matters to Them

Nov. 13, 2018

Qualitative research from APM Research Lab, Wilder Research offers national perspectives

American Public Media’s water initiative, The Water Main, today announced findings in a study focused on Americans’ perceptions on water, a topic for which there is little existing research. Conducted in collaboration with APM Research Lab and Wilder Research, the qualitative study offers water communicators a starting point on best ways to engage the public.

The research included questions about where Americans see water as connected to their lives, and important in society more generally.

“The Water Main works to build public will for clean water – a topic we believe Americans can unite behind,” said Amy Skoczlas Cole, Managing Director of The Water Main. “Until now, we didn’t have much insight into what people think and care about when it comes to water. With the insights from this research, we – and anyone else working to communicate about water – can now make this topic more relevant and tangible to their lives. This is an audience-first approach to make sure the work we do reaches people and increases their understanding of and connection to water.”

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Key preliminary findings from this research include:
People connect to water in a variety of ways. The majority of respondents stated necessity and dependence as the first things they think of when it comes to water in their lives.
Respondents reported that the relationship between water and food is almost as strong as the relationship between water and hygiene in their lives.
Respondents expressed a strong relationship between water and the environment. Just over half (54%) of respondents said the most recent media coverage of water they had encountered was related to an environmental issue. Respondents are, in turn, talking about what they hear in the media. Their most recent conversations about water were often similar to the most recent water-related media coverage respondents had encountered.
But respondents also understood water as relating to topics beyond the environment. The economy, electricity, and human rights also ranked high as societal topics that are strongly related to water.

This research starts to point towards at least three categories of core interests and value sets through which Americans can relate to water.

The Outdoor Recreation Enthusiast: connecting to water through their favorite body of water, science, and heritage
The Day to Day User: connecting to water through food, drinking water, their career, and their cost of living
The Social Impact Citizen: connecting to water through environmental issues, societal well-being, and spirituality

“For me, this study really emphasizes the breadth of ways people derive value from water — from food to hygiene to personal connections,” said Kassira Absar, research associate at APM Research Lab. “It highlights that water connections go beyond environmental concerns.”

“The interview questions really prompted respondents to think about the relationship between water and aspects of their lives and society that they may know exist, but don’t often think about,” said Anna Granias, lead study researcher at Wilder Research. “It struck me that more than three out of four respondents have a personal connection to a specific body of water. While respondents’ connection to water was often based on proximity, many respondents also reflected on time spent and memories made with friends and family around these bodies of water. Certainly, this is a positive starting place from which to engage the public in the protection of our water resources.”

The complete research report is available at The Water Main will use this research to inform its work and shares these findings with the hope of sparking conversation about how to make water more visible, relevant and meaningful to a wider audience.

About American Public Media
American Public Media® is the national programming division of Minnesota Public Radio® and reaches 20 million listeners via approximately 1,000 radio stations nationwide each week. APM is one of the largest producers and distributors of public radio programming in the world, with a portfolio that includes BBC World Service, Marketplace®, and the leading classical music programs in the nation. APM offers a diverse array of podcasts featuring the best in food, culture, entertainment, business and investigative journalism. For more information on APM, visit

About the Water Main
The Water Main was created by American Public Media in 2017 to serve current and new audiences, by growing a new public service model that shapes and inform critical conversations and decisions in society. The initiative focuses on connecting with audiences to grow Water IQ (understanding) and Water EQ (personal connection), acting in ways that have an enduring impact. The Water Main partners within APM, as well as far beyond its borders in collaboration with other media organizations, stakeholder groups, and communities. Learn more by visiting

About Wilder Research Wilder Research, a division of Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, is a nationally respected nonprofit research and evaluation group. For more than 100 years, Wilder Research has gathered and interpreted facts and trends to help families and communities thrive, get at the core of community concerns, and uncover issues that are overlooked or poorly understood. Learn more at