A presidential proclamation is a non-enforceable document with little impact beyond positive PR. But when the leader of the free world says something, people pay attention.

Two years before President Reagan made the first week of May a celebration of the engineers and scientists who helped conquer the continent, Congress updated the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. Public Law 99-939 prohibits lead pipes in public drinking water systems.

President George Bush used his 1989 and 1990 proclamations to let the nation know that that wasn’t going to be cheap or easy.

Then, nothing.

Enter Flint, Mich. I think it’s going to create a PR nightmare for public works departments nationwide, but so far that’s not the case. Response to our latest quick poll — Since the Michigan water crisis, are you receiving more calls from residents concerned about their drinking water? — is split almost 50/50. So far, the ‘yes’es only slightly outpace the ‘no’s.

I don’t think that’s going to last. Drinking water standards are complicated; EPA’s being portrayed as having fallen down on enforcing the lead-pipe requirement. People distrust government. Therefore, customers are going to be less inclined than ever to believe anything your agency says to reassure them and correct misperceptions.

I hope I’m wrong. But in case I’m right, our June/July issue takes an in-depth look at the fallout from Flint: how EPA’s responding, what regulators are going to expect from public water systems and why, and what that means for you.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to share them with me at sjohnston@hanleywood.com. And by the way, here’s more information on Drinking Water Week.