Easy Ways For Utilities To Spotlight Water Value
By Sara Jerome
The water sector knows it is under-appreciated.
Stakeholders across the industry are concerned that consumers do not grasp the true value of water. Companies from Xylem to Siemens are vocal about the problem, and this year, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) rated it as a major problem facing the water industry.
So what can utilities do about it?
Part of the solution rests on long-term efforts to promote research and shift government policies, but experts say there are also simple ways for utilities to take action right now.
For starters, utilities can make the water bill easier to read.
A guide sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the AWWA Research Foundation advised that "the units most commonly used on water bills, 100 cubic feet or 1,000 gallons, are not well understood by many customers."
By presenting simpler units, "it is hoped that customers will gain more perspective on the value of water and the amount they pay for various service levels."
In addition, utilities can make sure that, at the very least, their own employees understand the issue. Every single worker is a potential emissary to the public.
"Field personnel should recognize that every customer interaction is a teachable moment," the guide said. "All levels of the organization, from top down, can and should play a role in the communication process."
Individual utilities can play a role in raising media awareness in their local area, according to organizers on this issue.
The Water Environment Foundation (WEF) has structured its media campaign on the value of water in a way that makes it easy for individual utilities to join the effort. A "toolkit" of media outreach strategies advises water professionals on how to take action.
For instance, the campaign provides utilities with literature to stuff in consumers' bills that help communicate on this topic.
Water utilities have to give up their role as the "silent utility," according to communications expert Donna Vincent of BlueTech Research.
"They need to be much more than a phantom agency that no one thinks or talks about until a main bursts or there is sensational coverage of a water disaster or security-related issue," she said.
Winning over the public will draw government attention to this issue, Water Online reported earlier this year.
"If the public truly understands and appreciates the value of water and, by extension, the role of the water provider, then they are more likely to support the investment required to adequately fund the repair, expansion, and upkeep of vital water systems," the article said.
The public perception that water is free has considerable negative consequences for utilities. A white paper by American Water published to Water Online investigates this issue.
Check out in-depth coverage of this issue from Water Online here.
Image credit: "Sean Mason," © 2006 Untitled., used under a Creative Commons Attribution license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en