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RUMBLES - September 2015

rocky mountain view From the RMSAWWA Chair Melissa Essex Elliott What is the value of water? How do you ensure that the public values the service we provide in the water profession? I’m a seasoned public relations practitioner who’s worked in water for many years, and I haven’t found the solution to that problem yet, and it seems to be worry-ing plenty of my peers as well. AWWA puts out an annual report that focuses on issues within our industry. AWWA does a survey of its extensive membership and reports on the findings. It’s free to members and available at awwa.org, just search for State of the Water Industry Report. The top five important issues identified in 2015 were: 1. Renewal and replacement of aging water and wastewater infrastructure; 2. Financing for capital improvements; 3. Long-term water supply availability; 4. Public understanding of the value of water systems and services; and 5. Public understanding of the value of water resources. The report rates the understanding of the value of water issues among the general public, residential customers, nonresidential customers, public officials, and the media. Those who responded felt that public officials had the best overall understanding, whereas the general public had the worst understanding of water systems and services and resources. Residential customers were hovering just above the general public. Having seen the numbers in the report, I can say that as an industry we feel very misunderstood. 10 | RUMBLES SEPTEMBER 2015 This is probably the root of the answer to the question I started with. If you don’t understand something you likely don’t value it either. In June, I participated in AWWA’s Annual Conference and Exposition in Anaheim, California. While there, I heard George Hawkins, General Manager of DC Water, Washington, D.C.’s municipal water and wastewater utility, speak about this topic. DC Water has undergone a large effort to rebrand the organization and improve every aspect of the service it provides. Hawkins started his talk with this statement, “There is no more important work that our agencies do than external relations. Our organizations are founded on a relationship with the customer. And without the revenue and support of our customers nothing happens.” There are many efforts locally, regionally, and nationally aimed at getting the general public to value the resource we spend so much time managing. At Denver Water, our campaign this year is You Can’t Make This Stuff, So Use Only What You Need (denverwater.org). Colorado WaterWise has launched Live Like You Love It (lovecoloradowater.org). There’s also a national effort through the public/ private Value of Water Coalition to bring the value of water message to the masses (thevalueofwater.org). I am very hopeful that these campaigns will raise awareness of the value of water. But awareness only goes so far. If you are concerned about the public’s understanding of the value of water, I would urge you not to rely just on a campaign to foster the understanding we need. It will actually take action on your part as well. In an era when consumption is declining, when infrastructure needs to be replaced, when long-term water supply availability is questionable in parts of our country, if you go about your business and leave your customers alone to figure this all out for themselves, they won’t compute the answers correctly. There are lots of organizations out there that are willing to fill in the information void for you. Have you ever reviewed the Environmental Working Group’s ranking of water systems in the United States? It includes statements like: “More than half of the chemicals detected are not subject to health or safety regulations and can legally be present in any amount.” While technically true, it’s out of context; if you have small children and you read this you might assume that bottled water would be safer to have in your home than tap water. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix. But you can be part of the solution. We need to be available to our customers and vigilant about providing opportunities for input and involvement that’s meaningful and inclusive. Continued on page 12


RUMBLES - September 2015
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