| U.S. tap water consumer poll: high satisfaction, though a quarter struggle to pay bills
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U.S. tap water consumer poll: high satisfaction, though a quarter struggle to pay bills

71% of respondents indicate they trust their water utilityMore than seven in ten Americans (71%) served by a water utility say they are satisfied with their tap water, according to a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA), although that figure is eight points lower than last year. 

The survey about public perceptions of tap water, conducted in June 2021, follows a similar survey conducted in June 2020. Respondents over age 65 and those with higher incomes had the most positive opinions about safety. Seventy-four percent felt their tap water is safe, a drop of seven points from last year. 

Adriana Lamar“It’s encouraging that confidence in tap water safety and quality remain high,” said Adriana Lamar (pictured right), a member of the project steering committee and chief of the office of public engagement for Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department. “We can’t say with certainty why these ratings were lower than last year. However, it may be that people appreciated the public health benefits of water service in a particular way during the early stages of the pandemic.”

Respondents were interviewed online, and the data were weighted to approximate a representative sample of U.S. adults served by a water utility based on gender, educational attainment, age, race and region. 

A majority of the respondents reported that their water safety has remained about the same over the past five years while a fifth (20%) said the safety of their water has gotten better. Higher-income adults are the most likely to report the safety of their water has gotten better.

The percentage of respondents who perceived the quality of water at their faucet as excellent or good remains high (68%), although again lower than in 2020. The perception of water quality decreased by nine points overall and was most evident among Black adults.

86% of respondents who recently heard from their water utility report their water is safeThe survey also indicated higher satisfaction (85%) among people who recall receiving communication from their water utility in addition to their bill in the last year. This includes those who report their water as safe (86%) and those who say their water quality is excellent/good (84%). 

However, of the respondents who live in multi-family buildings such as condos and apartments, 82% said they hadn’t heard from their utility in the past year. Their results consistently lagged behind other respondents in positive ratings for water safety, quality and satisfaction, as well as trust in their utility.

Chi Ho Sham“This survey shows that the majority of the respondents have confidence in their tap water, yet as a sector we have opportunities to improve our performance by better communicating with customers, including those living in apartments and condos, and addressing affordability issue and other customer concerns,” said AWWA President Chi Ho Sham (pictured right).

Matt Junker, public relations specialist with Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania and another member of the survey’s steering committee, said the survey highlights the ‘hard to reach’ segment of consumers who don’t pay their water bill directly to their water provider. 

Matt Junker“The 2021 survey starts to quantify the benefit to water utilities of doing the hard work necessary to connect with that segment through proactive communications,” said Junker (pictured right).

In addition, the latest survey found that a majority of respondents (76%) were able to pay their water bill. Of the 24% who said they struggled to pay their water bill, most were younger adults or had lower incomes. 

Many respondents said they were willing to pay more for water service improvements or to assist others. More specifically:

  • 58% were willing to pay more for service improvements in their community, with two-thirds of those willing to pay between $1 and $20 more per month
  • 46% were willing to pay more to help others pay their water bill
  • 43% were willing to donate to help others pay their water bill

The two polls were initiated to provide AWWA members with more data about consumer trust in tap water. They were paid for through AWWA’s member-supported Water Industry Technical Action Fund.

Other 2021 survey findings included:

  • 71% of respondents are in favor of the federal government helping to pay water bills for those who struggle to do so
  • The race and ethnicity of respondents were not significant once income, education and region were controlled for in the survey; however, there are significant income and educational disparities across U.S. ethnic and racial groups to consider when reviewing the study results