| How to write an effective Consumer Confidence Report
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How to write an effective Consumer Confidence Report

Every year, utilities are required by law to write and send Consumer Confidence Reports, also known as a water quality reports, to their customers – and that can seem burdensome.

Already loaded with day-to-day tasks and regulatory challenges, managers ask themselves: What should I include? How do I educate my customers about source water? What actions should I recommend?

This week, AWWA published a report, “Communicating Source Water Protection Efforts in Consumer Confidence Reports,” to help utility managers write more effective CCRs. It is available to AWWA members only for the next six months and will then be available to the general public.

“Last fall, I presented to a group of utility managers and asked them, ‘What do you share about source water protection in your CCRs?’ Everyone rolled their eyes and said, ‘Just what we have to because no one reads it,’” said Cathy Kellon, author of the report. “But I said, ‘They may read it and look at it more than you think.’”

The 41-page document guides utility managers as they develop CCR language that describes their source water protection efforts for both surface water and groundwater systems. It’s especially helpful to small and medium-sized utilities that may have fewer resources than larger utilities.

The document tells what to include about source water protection in every water quality report, links to helpful communication resources, and excerpts from well-done CCRs that utilities can use to write their own reports.

When Kellon presented to the utility managers last fall, she showed them the excerpts. “They recognized that there is an opportunity there and if they took a few extra steps, they might engage more readers.”

Kellon said producing an effective CCR may require homework, but not much.

“Everyone has a source water assessment because it was required by law,” said Kellon, program director of the Working Waters Initiative at the Geos Institute, a nonprofit that uses science to help people predict, reduce, and prepare for climate change. “These reports are a great resource, whether the utility is the author or the state regulatory agency. There’s already a lot of information in there that will be new to customers. By helping your customers get to know the source area and why it matters, you create a personal connection which is important to building a supportive ratepayer base.”

The report was commissioned by the Association’s Source Water Protection Committee and funded by AWWA’s Technical and Educational Council. It encourages all utilities to share protection information above and beyond what’s required by law and lists four topics that should be included in every CCR:

·       Describe the source area. Do not simply identify the source and availability of a source water assessment. Make use of maps, illustrations, and graphics to help the reader appreciate the source of their drinking water and its relationship to the community.

·       Explain why it matters to protect the source area. There are many good reasons for pursuing source water protection, from protecting public health to saving money and enhancing fish and wildlife populations. Talk about these reasons – consider featuring different aspects over time – in terms of the utility’s work and the community’s values for the source area.

·       Underscore the utility’s commitment to source water protection. The utility or municipality should demonstrate that it takes a proactive, organized, and serious approach to source water protection, reflecting the valuable nature of the resource. There are two main ways to communicate this: articulate a vision or goal for source water protection and give specific examples of how you are protecting the source area.

·       Offer clear ways for customers to help protect the drinking water source. Point to additional resources for engaging in source water protection activities, such as volunteer tree-planting events or educational tours of the area, and offer tips that individuals, households, and businesses can make to reduce their water use and pollution.

Kellon reiterated that customers probably care about source water and CCRs more than utility managers think. According to a Gallup survey released last year, 63 percent of respondents worry “a great deal” about drinking water pollution and 57 percent worry “a great deal” about the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs – the highest since the early 2000s.

“It is really important to share what you do and educate customers,” Kellon said, “because they will be the greatest advocate for you when it comes to any kind of management change or investments that need to be done with the system. Whether you need to update the treatment plant or protect the source water, an informed and excited customer base is going to make it much easier.”

 Do you have a comment or story idea for Connections? Please contact Ann Espinola at aespinola@awwa.org.