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Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Water Documentaries, Public Awareness and Customer Concerns

Water Documentaries, Public Awareness and Customer Concerns

Much has been said about shining a light on the value of clean water and the hidden infrastructure and personnel involved. In the past decade or so dozens of documentary films about water have been produced that do exactly that. From films that expose the aged and decaying pipes under our feet to films that reveal more complex and difficult truths about who is responsible for this decay, documentary filmmakers can bring big water issues, and the controversies and emotions that come with them, into the spotlight. 

Take for example the recent documentary Troubled Water, a film that highlights water contamination and public health issues in America. Watching the film, and seeing, sometimes for the first time, that many communities do not have access to safe drinking water can hit hard on the public's emotions. They might wonder about the lack of access to safe drinking water or about why there are so many toxins and, especially, they might wonder what people plan to do, and when, to fix the problems. 

Or this film about plastic microfibers showing up in tap water. Samples taken from Asia to Europe to the Americas, the video maintains, demonstrate that 80% of the world's tap water contain these fibers. Scientists interviewed in the film, while agreeing that more research is necessary, believe that chemicals bound to these fibers could be toxic to humans. With plastic surrounding us everywhere we look, the public can feel like there is no escape! 

With their dramatic soundtracks and interviews, these documentaries can certainly get people mobilized to push for meaningful change. Yet they can also erode trust and authentic communication between the community, local governments and their water utilities, especially if the concerns are based on incomplete knowledge.

The trick perhaps is to first acknowledge that any kind of public water awareness, no matter how it comes about, is essentially a good thing. Indeed, according to this EPA fact sheet on communicating with customers about contamination, every contact with the public provides an opportunity to build up public trust, develop closer ties, explain your utility's commitment to delivering safe water, prepare the public for future communication and gain support for investment in their water system.

At the same time it is important to know that whether or not these films play a significant role in public perception, results from recent polls show that Americans are increasingly becoming more concerned about water quality issues. Many utility personnel field water quality concerns from their customers on a daily basis already, so being prepared with good information and a positive attitude can go a long way in staying calm through a public relations storm, or just as inquiries increase over time. The AWWA has a helpful toolkit for talking honestly and openly with your community about difficult issues such as lead contamination.  

In the meantime, you can get ahead of the game by anticipating questions that your customers might have about their water, where it comes from, and who is in charge. Here is a list of recent water documentaries (with links for watching if available) that may be weighing on your customers minds lately. 

  • Water & Power: A California Heist This films explores competing interests in California's groundwater reserves and the privatization of water.
  • Troubled Water This film investigates drinking water contamination in communities across the country.
  • Liquid Assets This film tells the story of our water infrastructure
  • Tapped This film examines the role of the bottled water industry and its effects on our health, climate change, pollution, and our reliance on oil.
  • The Water Front This film explores issues of affordability and changing neighborhoods, as well as the strengths and limitations of community activism.
  • Flow This film asks the question: Can anyone really own water? 
  • Nova: Poisoned Water  This NOVA series uncovers the science behind corrosion control and lead in pipes.
  • Parched This National Georgraphic water series treats a variety of topics including affordability, lead in pipes, PFAs/C-8 contamination, rooftop water tanks and more.
  • Beyond the Mirage This film focuses on drought, growth and the future of water in the West.
  • Written on Water This film shows innovators in Olton, Texas who fight to keep their town alive against the decline of the Ogallala Aquifer. 

Finally, it is hard to not get overwhelmed by the sense of despair that such documentaries can sometimes produce. However, this documentary produced in 2011 by the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water takes a more positive spin on how states and towns can tackle water quality challenges a little bit at a time to add up to significant improvements for all. 

Featured Video: Running Toilets Waste Water

Featured Video: Running Toilets Waste Water
As football season gets underway, it's a good time to revisit Denver Water's clever water conservation PSA. The video may be ten years old, but the simple concept still makes for a fun and memorable message. It's a good reminder that even though water utilities play a vital role in public health and quality of life, that doesn't mean we can't sometimes have a little fun. Happy Friday!



Featured Videos: The House on Wade Avenue

Last week, our featured video discussed the value of water. Hidden infrastructure is often a factor in how people value their water utility. Distribution and collection systems and treatment plants are usually tucked out of the way, and out of sight for many people is out of mind. Sometimes though, the obscurity of the infrastructure can be its own story, as in the case of this mysterious house on Wade Avenue in Raleigh, North Carolina. See if you can guess its secret, and once you know the answer, challenge your customers to guess too!



For more public education resources, check the Public Education category on this blog. Or, for a more in-depth discussion of public education and water infrastructure, check out this hour-long webinar recording from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Featured Videos: Put Water First

Summer is a time when water sources are on a lot of customers' minds. Whether they're buying bottled water from the store or making sun tea with water from the tap, chances are the value of drinking water is particularly clear to them. If you'd like to advocate for the value of your drinking water utility, this week's featured video could help.

Heather Himmelberger, director of the Southwest Environmental Finance Center, gave this talk a few years ago at TEDxABQ. TEDx events are independently organized TED-like conferences intended to help communities spark conversation and connection. Heather speaks about the incredibly reasonable price of tap water, and discusses the expenses that could face the industry in the future. The video can provide an accessible introduction to these topics for your customers.


To see more on the topic of the value of water, check out the Value of Water category here on this blog. Or type "value of water" (minus the quote marks) into the keyword search field of our document database, then click Retrieve Documents.

Featured Video: This American Land: Critical Aquifer

If you're in an area of the country that's naturally dry, or in one of the states currently experiencing drought, you've probably had a lot of time to think about how to save water. Tips for conserving water around the home are a Google away (or check our document database!), but chances are, your biggest local water users aren't residential. If your area is dry enough that you need to be thinking about water use on a regional scale, then your local farmers may be needing some water conservation help too. In this 7-minute video, the USDA NRCS discusses the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, where they worked with local farmers to grow more crops with less water:

If you want to learn more about the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, check out this article. If you want to learn more about water conservation at water utilities, go to our document database, type "water conservation" (without the quote marks) into the Keyword Search field, and select Type "Manuals/Handbooks". Then click "Retrieve Documents".

Featured Video: Communicating Science

As a water utility professional, you probably spend at least some time talking to people about your job. Whether you're explaining operations to a utility board, breaking down a bill for a customer, or just chatting at a barbeque, eventually, someone is going to want to know how and why you do what you do. For some of you, this might be an easy task--you're an outgoing educator with a passion for your job. For others though, getting asked questions on the spot makes your mind go blank and your palms go sweaty. Still others may be happy to talk, but have a hard time getting people interested in what you have to say. Trying to help people understand a topic as complex as water and wastewater treatment can be a challenge, particularly when you're immersed in the topic yourselves. Add in the financial challenges some small systems face, and opening up meaningful communication with your community can feel even more daunting.



Scientists face similar challenges. Like water operators, scientists have a lot of knowledge about complex fields with specialized jargon. The work they do may not be obvious to people outside the profession, just like utility operations can feel hidden in plain sight. One resource that helps scientists learn how to communicate with the press and other non-scientists is the Alda-Kavli Center for Science Communication. In this video, co-founder Alan Alda talks about his inspiration for starting the Center and some of the basic communication principles he keeps in mind:



To read about water utility outreach programs, visit our document database and type "public relations" (without the quote marks) into the Keyword search field, then click "Retrieve Documents." Being open with your community about the challenges and successes at their utility can help you gain public support, even when you need to undertake big projects like rate hikes or infrastructure overhauls. Even if you don't have big projects looming on the horizon, taking the extra time to engage with your community can make your job more rewarding, and builds goodwill for when you do need a helping hand. If nothing else, taking some time to think about these issues ahead of time will give you some better conversation topics at your next barbeque.

Preparing a consumer confidence report

July 1 is around the corner, the deadline for community water suppliers to deliver their annual Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to their customers. The CCR is a water quality report or a drinking water quality report, and is required under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Consumer Confidence Report Rule.

Every community water system serving at least 15 service connections and/or 25 people year round must prepare and distribute a report. To assist with preparing these, the EPA provides compliance tools and documents.

Gathering Results

The reports are based on calendar-year data, so your report due to customers this July 1, 2017 will be based on data collected between January and December 2016. CCRs must show the highest level of each detected contaminant (this is usually the value you report to the state to determine compliance) and the range of levels of that contaminant you found during the CCR calendar year assuming more than one sample was collected.

Additionally, the CCR Rule requires that drinking water standards and water sample results are presented as numbers greater than or equal to 1.0 in order to enhance consumer understanding of their drinking water quality. These units are often referred to as CCR units. For conversion assistance, view Converting Laboratory Units into CCR Units.

Writing the Report

Briefly, CCRs must include contact information for your utility, identify the water source, define acronyms and technical terms, report and explain levels of contaminants, explain any violations, variations and exemptions, and finally, include some required educational language. A complete explanation of CCR requirements begins on page 7 of the EPA document Preparing Your Drinking Water Consumer Confidence Report: Guidance for Water Suppliers. The document also includes sample language and definitions you can use, a certification form, and examples of CCRs.

As you begin formatting your CCR report, be sure to check the EPA’s Best Practices Fact Sheet for tips on formatting and language that will make your report easy for customers without your technical knowledge to understand.

Distribution to Customers

Distribution requirements can vary. In some states, the mailing requirement may be waived for systems serving less than 10,000 and substituted with a different option, such as publishing the CCR results in one or more local newspapers. If the mailing requirement is waived and your system serves less than 500, then you do not need to publish in a newspaper, but at least once a year, you must notify customers through a mailed, delivered, or posted notice that the CCR is available from your water system upon request.

In addition to sharing sampling results with your customers, the CCR is an opportunity to share the work you’ve completed to produce their drinking water, manage problems, and introduce future improvements and requirements for your utility.

Information for Your State

And finally, don’t forget to visit WaterOperator.org’s document library to find help documents and samples specific to your state. Simply select your state from the filters and enter a keyword search for “Consumer Confidence Report” or “CCR.”

Raise your profile with AWWA’s Drinking Water Week

Raise your profile with AWWA’s Drinking Water Week

This week marks the American Water Works Association’s drinking water awareness week, and they are offering a suite of free materials for water operators and utilities to raise you profile in your local communities.

“This year’s Drinking Water Week will motivate water consumers to be actively aware of how they personally connect with water,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “We should all know how to find and fix leaks, care for our home’s pipes and support our utility’s investment in water infrastructure.”

The materials – which include artwork, public service announcements, press and social media posts and more – provide an introduction four key steps AWWA is highlighting for water users this year:

  • Drinking Water Week Introduction – AWWA encourages getting to know and love tap water.
  • Get the Lead Out – Replace lead-based water pipes and plumbing.
  • Check and Fix Leaks – Conserve water by checking and fixing leaks inside and outside the home.
  • Caring For Pipes – Stop clogs before they happen by learning more about what can and can’t be flushed.
  • Water Infrastructure Investment – Protect your water supply by advocating for investment in the repair and replacement of infrastructure.

Help celebrate the rest of Drinking Water Week, and bookmark their materials for the next time your program wants to promote these issues.

Featured Video: Freddy the Fish

If April showers have arrived at your utility, then stormwater topics are probably at the forefront of your mind---and your customers' minds too. This makes it a great moment for public education. There are things utilities can do to mitigate stormwater quality, but nothing works quite as well as having your community pitch in to clean up the watershed. This week's video presents basic practices that improve stormwater quality, in terms aimed at your youngest consumers. Freddy the Fish focuses on reducing litter, picking up dog poop, and eliminating storm sewer dumping, and combines these messages with animated and live-action video and brief singalongs. The video would be a particularly good fit for presentations to young school-age children, which in turn can be a great way to engage your community.

For more stormwater public outreach materials, search our document database using the category Stormwater and the type Factsheets/Case Studies. You might also be interested in the EPA's video on stormwater (for adults) here.

Featured Video: Lead and Copper Sampling

For the past three weeks, we've talked about the dangers to drinking water quality posed by water storage facilities, and discussed what you can do to combat them. But there's another source of drinking water contamination that's gotten a lot more press in the past few years, and that's the distribution system. Lead and copper pipes are known for their ability to leach metal into the water they contain. When the pipes are particularly exposed or the water chemistry is particularly favorable, they can leach a lot. If your customers have an increased interest in getting their water tested---or you'd like a refresher on how lead and copper sampling works yourself---this video from AWWA can be a great place to start. The two-and-a-half minute video briefly outlines the basic provisions of the Lead and Copper Rule, and goes on to discuss the proper technique for collecting lead and copper samples.

The Quick Reference Guides mentioned in the video can be found on the USEPA website here. The page with additional resources on the rule is here. To see what consumer information resources other utilities and states have developed for the Lead and Copper Rule, search our document database using the category Lead and Copper and the type Factsheets/Case Studies.

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