Americans say they'd stomach an 11% increase in water rates to shore up our ailing buried infrastructure so we're no longer losing 2 trillion gallons of clean water every year. That would generate $5.4 billion annually to repair, replace, and/or rehabilitate broken and leaking assets — four times the federal allocation for drinking water programs.

However, they expect you — not the federal or state governments — to take the lead in making this happen.

In honor of World Water Day on March 22 this year, the company that contributed the preceding article (“Centrifugal vs. progressive-cavity sludge pump?” on pages 123 – 127) conducted two telephone surveys: one of 1,003 voters 18 years and older, the other of 500 businesses.

Bottom line: The average American is much more worried about the economy and jobs, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, health care, and the nation's leadership than the quality and quantity of their drinking water. But when forced to think about it, they say water's more important than any other service: electricity, heat, the Internet, and cell phones. The average business ranks water second to electricity.

The problem is that drinking water managers do such a good job that most people take this reliably clean, accessible resource for granted.

Except that they don't.

Although we (probably) have the world's cleanest water, the United States is the world's largest consumer of bottled water. We drink an average of 27.8 gallons per person a year. In fact, we'll pay anywhere from 39 cents to $1.25 for 16.9 ounces bottled in petroleum-based plastic. Those figures translate to $2.95 to $10.01 per gallon.

Is that what your operation charges?

Of 5,823 people that University of Idaho and Iowa State University researchers talked to between 2004 and 2009, 13% use bottled water as their primary source of drinking water and 46% say they “often” use bottled water for drinking.

Why? They're afraid of what may be in the local groundwater; in fact, 15% of respondents don't think their water is safe to drink. The larger the community, the more likely people are to rely on bottled water. There's no corresponding fear of local surface water sources.

Fortunately, consumers do respond to facts. Education has been proven to heighten concern for otherwise-overlooked issues like this one. Hopefully, you can use the data in these documents to begin the discussion.

WEB EXTRA

FREE DOWNLOADS

Bottled Water Statistics
University of Idaho

Bottled Water: United States Consumers and Their Perceptions of Water Quality
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

The Value of Water Survey
Xylem Inc.