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Consumers often do not recognize the immense value of tap water, and that reality makes setting reasonable water rates difficult, according to a report published by the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
The report, "Avoiding Rate Shock: Making the Case for Water Rates," provides utilities insights into gaining community support for necessary improvements to drinking water infrastructure and successfully communicating their needs to elected leaders and consumers.
The report is a compilation of extensive research, "lessons learned" from previous rate increases, and practical tools to help water utility professionals communicate with key constituents.
Among the key findings of the report are:
* People undervalue water, which compounds the challenge of getting rate increases accepted;
* Consistent, structured communications outreach builds the credibility necessary to support the customer-utility relationship and, therefore, rate increases when needed;
* It’s never too late to start doing the right thing – utilities should think long-term, and plan beyond the current circumstances; and
* Billing practices and rate structure options can affect customer reactions and acceptance of rate increases.
"A key finding of the study is that people undervalue water, which is one reason that rate increases are difficult for some customers to accept," said Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of AWWA. "Water infrastructure is usually out of sight and out of mind for consumers. But to prevent today's water infrastructure concerns from becoming tomorrow’s crisis, we must better communicate the value of water service to communities. We need to talk about the value of public health protection, but also the fact that water is the lifeblood of any community by providing fire protection, economic development, and quality of life."
Water utilities throughout the country are wrestling with several challenging and costly water-related issues. Pipes laid at the turn of the 19th century, the 1920s and the 1950s are in need of serious maintenance or replacement. A previous report commissioned by AWWA concluded that more than $250 billion over 30 years will be required nationwide for the replacement of drinking water infrastructure. Utilities are also upgrading treatment methods to comply with new federal regulations and investing in security in an unprecedented way.