Report Underscores Value of Water

As the editor of a water industry publication, I tend to notice things related to water. When I fly into a city, I always try to spot the drinking water or wastewater plants from the air.

Sep 1st, 2004

by James Laughlin

As the editor of a water industry publication, I tend to notice things related to water. When I fly into a city, I always try to spot the drinking water or wastewater plants from the air. It's surprisingly easy to do once you know what to look for.

I also notice water usage, like when a certain neighbor waters his lawn so long and hard that water runs off his yard, into the street and down the storm drain. When I see a leaking water line, I call the city to report the leak, and then watch to see how long it takes to get the problem fixed. (Tulsa has a good record, by the way – the quickest fix was one day, the longest was four and it was a small leak).

Most people, however, just take water for granted. They don't really think about what it costs to produce clean, safe water and deliver it to their tap. That makes setting reasonable water rates difficult, according to a recent report published by The American Water Works Association (AWWA).

The report, Avoiding Rate Shock: Making the Case for Water Rates, provides utilities with tips on how to gain community support for improvements to drinking water infrastructure. The report includes extensive research, "lessons learned" from previous rate increases, and practical tools to help water utility professionals communicate with key constituents.

The "Avoiding Rate Shock" Toolkit appendix includes examples and templates for graphics, press releases, PowerPoint presentations, survey instruments, and other materials utilities may customize for their own local circumstances.

The AWWA Water Utility Council (WUC) commissioned the report, recognizing that gaining community support for reasonable rate increases is often a difficult challenge for drinking water utilities.

"A key finding of the study is that people undervalue water, which is one reason that rate increases are difficult for some customers to accept," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of AWWA. "Water infrastructure is usually out of sight and out of mind for consumers.

"To prevent today's water infrastructure concerns from becoming tomorrow's crisis, we must better communicate the value of water service to communities. We need to talk about the value of public health protection, but also the fact that water is the lifeblood of any community by providing fire protection, economic development, and quality of life."

Water utilities throughout the country are wrestling with the challenge of aging infrastructure. Pipes laid at the turn of the 19th century, the 1920s and the 1950s are in need of serious maintenance or replacement. A previous report commissioned by AWWA concluded that more than $250 billion over 30 years will be required nationwide for the replacement of drinking water infrastructure. Utilities are also upgrading treatment methods to comply with new federal regulations and investing in security in an unprecedented way.

All AWWA member utilities will be provided with one copy of this important report. Additional copies of the report are available for the organization's online bookstore at www.awwa.org.

James Laughlin, Editor

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