Four in five Americans (77%) served by a water utility say the quality of their tap water is excellent or good, although Black and Hispanic consumers report a lower level of satisfaction, according to a recent survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).
The survey, Public Perceptions of Tap Water, was conducted June 10-13, 2020. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2%.
Among a sample of 2,200 U.S. adults, 1,940 said they are served by a water utility. Respondents were interviewed online, and the data were weighted to approximate a target sample of U.S. adults based on gender, educational attainment, age, race, and region.
“It’s encouraging to see that overall confidence in tap water is high in the United States,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “We hope this survey helps water professionals better understand consumer perceptions – both positive and negative – so they can continue to address concerns and strengthen public trust.”
Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans believe their water quality has decreased over the past five years, according to the poll, and 78% of those served by water utilities say they are “satisfied” with their tap water.
However, the poll showed lower satisfaction among Black and Hispanic respondents and among respondents with household incomes less than $100,000. Higher-income earners ($100,000+) were more likely to report high levels of safety with their water. White respondents were more likely than Black and Hispanic respondents to report their water is “very safe.”
“The survey underscores that there is still a lot of work to do to earn trust among Black and Hispanic water consumers and among people with low and middle incomes,” said AWWA President Melissa Elliott. “Developing solutions to affordability challenges, swiftly addressing water quality issues in disadvantaged communities, and improving communications are key in building confidence in tap water.”
The survey also indicated that people who recall receiving communication from their water utility in the last year report higher satisfaction with their water (85%), are more likely to rate their water quality as “excellent” (36% excellent vs. 24% excellent among those who did not recall communication) and rate their water as safer (86%) than those who did not recall any communication.
Although utilities are required to provide annual reports on water quality to consumers each year by mail or online, only 28% of the survey respondents recalled receiving any communication from their water utility.
The poll was initiated in response to requests from AWWA Water Utility Council members for more data on consumer trust in tap water. It was paid for through AWWA’s member-supported Water Utility Technical Action Fund, which supports research projects and technical reports that help water professionals in their work.
Other survey findings included:
- When asked how they rate the quality, safety and satisfaction of their water, respondents based their perceptions on taste, look and smell
- The decision to drink bottled water is driven by convenience, but demographic variables such as community type and income level also play a role
- Utilities have an opportunity to improve the reputation of tap water by better informing their customers about infrastructure updates, the environmental benefits of drinking tap water, and water system filtration processes
- Water utility customers are split on their awareness of frequent water testing
“It seems clear that consistent communication from utilities is key in strengthening public trust in tap water,” Elliott said. “We need to do a better job of reaching water consumers in ways that are meaningful to them and through the communications channels they prefer.”