Maintaining Public Trust in Tap Water

Feb 22, 2024

This is my overriding concern in all of the advocacy work we do.  How do we address all the challenges, in an open and transparent way, while maintaining public trust in their local tap water?  We exist as a professional association to share knowledge and to tackle challenges together, through science, engineering and common sense.  We rarely have all the data, all the information or all the answers, but we MUST still discuss these matters that ‘could’ threaten the ‘safety’ of the tap water we are providing to our customers.  Even that word ‘safe’ water is up for debate!?!?

For something as ubiquitous as water, delivered to every home and business, at a comparably inexpensive charge, yet so critical to life, few have a clue as to the work that goes into treating and conveying that water to and from their homes. This incredible service, that is taken for granted in (most of) North America, is unknown to billions on the planet.  Yet we must argue for funding, for reasonable rates, and then address growing public mistrust.  I’m traveling a lot and consistently handed bottled water at hotels, and events.  I am forever engaging strangers in discussions about tap vs. bottled water (much to my children’s embarrassment).  Right now, as all governments focus on housing, we must argue on how you can’t have housing without water services. 

Right now, your CWWA committees are openly addressing threats such as PFAS, Lead, Manganese, A-C pipe, microplastics, pharmaceuticals, cyber attacks, infrastructure failure, boil water procedures, fatberg clogs and more.  We are regularly called by the media, and they almost always start with a preconceived story that will alarm the public to great (undefined) threat.  We have to respond professionally – that we are fully aware of the concerns, looking into it, dealing with it, or dismissing it as a threat.  Most see the scary headlines, but few get to hear our responses.  CWWA does its best to prepare Fact Sheets and Speaking Notes to support our municipal members.  I often argue that the calling of Boil Water orders is a good thing that should instill greater trust – that your utility does test 24/7 and will let you know when it is NOT safe. It is not easy retaining public trust in tap water. 

Now there is even a discussion in the US that the EPA may block the use of the term ‘Safe Water.’  Tis could be a real blow to public confidence.  This seems more driven by litigious fears than common sense.  What does ‘safe’ mean?  Is it safe for ‘everyone’? What if I have an allergy or sensitivity? What about the Lead in my own plumbing?  I don’t know what we will be allowed to say.  “this is ‘reasonably’ safe water treated to specification 113.27 in accordance with regulation 4465 iii) b).”

We’ll do our best on the semantics battle while you continue to provide ‘truly’ safe water.

Showcasing Canada to the World!

Don’t forget, the World Water Congress & Exhibition is coming to Toronto this summer, August 11-15.  The Program has been released and registrations are open.  We have coordinated both a Canada Pavilion and a US Pavilion – and the early bird rate is extended to the end of February.  There are also great technical tours and fa family/spousal program. 

So check it all out at: IWA World Water Congress & Exhibition – Shaping our water future