We won’t settle for D+ grades

We won’t settle for D+ grades

  Providing clean and reliable water and environmental services is what we do at United Water. And like many of the over 50,000 water utilities and 16,000 wastewater utilities across the nation, public and environmental health is our duty. But to maintain the level of standards that our customers expect, we need to raise awareness of the challenges facing our aging water infrastructure. A panelist at an event hosted by The Value of Water Coalition in Washington DC this week said that the water industry may in fact be a victim of its own success. Despite many pipes being 90 – 100 years old, water service is pretty reliable. And major catastrophes involving water main breaks are not the norm – yet. A majority of Americans rightfully expect reliable service from their utilities. But many are unaware that this invaluable resource is in need of leadership; new ways of thinking about an old problem; and new financing approaches. In fact, only 40% of water customers make connection between strong water infrastructure & clean drinking water. It is no secret that our communities are now relying on aging infrastructure in need of repair or replacement. We know that American cities and towns collectively need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars – between $400 billion and $1 trillion– in their public water and sewer systems. We also know that because of deferred investment choices the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) currently grades the nation’s water infrastructure a “D+.” And we are not a D+ Nation. Investing in water infrastructure is not only important for our domestic use, but it is...
In Tap Water We Trust

In Tap Water We Trust

  In the lead-up to National Drinking Water Week, a news article about French consumer confidence in tap water grabbed our attention. The survey found that 80% of respondents “trust” the water coming from their taps. Similarly 74% of respondents are satisfied with the quality of the water in their home and 69% appreciate the taste. We had incorrectly associated Perrier and Evian with what we assumed to be a bottled water tradition or preference in France. Maybe French spring water isn’t tres chic after all. Maybe Americans are the ones who are hooked on bottled water. Consider this: in recent U.S. surveys, only 53% of municipal water customers said they are likely to drink tap water versus bottled or otherwise filtered water. What gives? In an interview earlier this year with Duke University professor and author James Salzman, the United Water Blog asked this very question. If our water in the U.S. is among the cleanest in the world, why is bottled water so prevalent? The answer, in summary, was that water choices like many other ones, are influenced heavily by marketing. And very good marketing at that: bottled water sells for up to 1,000 times the price of tap water. Salzman found in his research for Drinking Water: A History that since the early 90s when Coke, Pepsi and Nestle entered the bottled water market and the consumption of bottled water skyrocketed, Americans have seemingly had an ambivalent relationship with tap water. Whereas in the 70s, if someone went into a gas station and asked for water they would have been directed to the hose outside. On...

How do we articulate the value of an invaluable resource – water?

Most tap water in this country – including the safe and reliable water provided to United Water’s millions of customers – costs less than a penny a gallon. But water is the essence of life; no person, animal, planet, business or society can survive without it. Surely, water’s value – and the convenience of having readily available safe water – is far higher than its cost.  Herein lies the conundrum: many of us don’t value things that are cheap and available. Many of us – Americans in particular – tend to take water for granted. Those of us in the water industry have long been concerned about a dangerous gap between the challenges our nations’ water supply currently faces and the willingness of our nation’s cities, towns and customers to address these challenges to secure this inexpensive and reliable resource. Specifically many communities across the U.S. are relying on an aging water infrastructure which is in need of repair or replacement. It is estimated that there is one water main break every two minutes in the United States, and that cities and towns across the nation must invest $1.3 trillion in repairs and upgrades over the next 25 years. United Water is preparing to tackle the infrastructure challenge by making nearly $1 billion in capital investments over the next five years in its own systems and in city systems that leverage private capital through the SOLUTIONSM model. Through SOLUTIONSM United Water can attract long-term private investment for cities that choose to improve their municipal water and environmental systems. Because much of our nation’s water system lies unseen underground, in...