Americans want to drink clean water even more than they want to breathe clean air. A new public survey and study was conducted in May by Nestlé Waters North America on 4,756 American adults across the lower 48 states.
The ‘Perspectives on America’s Water’ Study, released yesterday at the annual Aspen Ideas Festivalon innovative solutions in Colorado, asked the respondents to share their views on water-related topics. The overall take-away from the survey is that:
- clean drinking water is more important than clean air to Americans
- two out of three Americans believe their community is vulnerable to a water crisis
- a majority of the public believes significant, immediate investments in water infrastructure are needed to avoid future water crises
- the public and water resource scientists agree that climate change will have an increasing impact on access to clean drinking water
This is a significant finding, especially in the wake of the horrible State-inflicted water crisis in Flint, Michigan and continued attempts to repeal many Obama-era EPA regulations on air and water. So much so that even corporations are beginning to play a role in supporting environmental efforts to assure safe drinking water.
It’s important that our tap water be drinkable and safe. It was considered almost a civil right as America built its modern infrastructure during the 20th century. But towards the end of the century we began to buy bottled water, or reverse-osmosis water at the supermarket, first for convenience, and then for quality.
According to the International Bottled Water Association, bottled water is second only to carbonated soft drinks as the largest beverage category by volume in the United States and is seen as a healthy alternative to pop and other packaged beverages. Still, this 12 billion gallons per year is quite small compared to the 9 trillion gallons of tap water we use every year.
Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles every year along with 150 billion plastic straws. Making these bottles requires over 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year.
Unfortunately, while the average American uses 167 disposable water bottles annually, we only recycle 38. It is good, though, that 99% of our bottled water comes from domestic sources.
With this in mind, there were some very notable results from this water study:
– access to clean drinking water and the nation’s water infrastructure are major concerns for Americans across the entire country
– the study, the first of its kind to gather both the opinions of the nation’s general population as well as those of experts in the field, found that water is viewed as the most important natural resource in our daily lives, a little more than clean air: 87% compared to 81%
– 61% of American consumers and 66% of water resource experts characterized water problems as a crisis or major issue for the United States
– two out of three Americans (66%) believe their own community’s clean drinking water is at risk
– 59% say a major overhaul of U.S. water infrastructure is needed to avoid that possibility
– city-dwellers are even more likely to fear their community’s clean drinking water is at risk (70% versus 63% in rural areas).
– there is almost universal agreement (96%) that if the United States does not proactively invest in the country’s water infrastructure system now, it will end up costing more in the long run
Many American consumers and experts question whether the tap water in their home (36% and 30%, respectively) and schools (40% for both) is clean and safe. Parents with school-aged children under the age of 18 are more likely to worry: 45% of this group question the safety of the tap water in their schools.
Government officials polled worry the least, with only 16% who say they question the safety of water in their homes.
America has one of the safest water supplies in the world. In 2006, almost 90% of the nation’s community water systems were in compliance with all of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. However, according to a more recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), nearly 77 million Americans live in places where the water systems were in some violation of safety regulations. See also the United States Geological Survey maps of water quality across the U.S.
So it is not surprising that there is widespread concern among Americans that water supply issues will become more pressing within the next decade with 42% of Americans surveyed believing water will become less available in the next 10 years. Two-thirds (66%) believe water crises will have widespread consequences for individuals, businesses and the United States as a whole.
Nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents say climate change has had an impact on access to clean drinking water, by reducing the overall amount (41%) and quality (38%) of water available.
About half (51%) say the impact of climate change on access to clean drinking water will increase over the next 10 years, but improving infrastructure (59%) or developing innovations for purifying water (58%) could help mitigate the impacts.
Water resource scientists and experts are especially likely to say climate change is impacting clean drinking water (76%) and are more likely than American consumers to say this impact will increase over the next 10 years (58%). The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change agrees.
Americans who were surveyed support investment in infrastructure to address both the causes and effects of water-related issues. Infrastructure spending appears to be one of those few issues that has bipartisan support in the public and in the halls of Congress.
In terms of specific infrastructure improvements, Americans believe it is necessary to prioritize early detection systems that identify contamination in the water supply (64%), more efficient water collection and purification methods (52%) and infrastructure to increase water access, quality and capacity (48%).
To accomplish this, Americans expect close collaboration from government at all levels, as well as businesses and environmental organizations. American consumers expect local (71%), state (71%) and federal governments (65%) to play a role in ensuring that people have access to clean drinking water, but they expect consumers (39%) and businesses (35%) to help in some way.
On the other hand, experts are more likely to see opportunities for consumers (45%) and businesses (40%) to be involved.
Nestlé Waters, who conducted this study, is the third largest non-alcoholic beverage company in the United States, employing 8,500 people and running 28 bottled water facilities across America.
The survey responders included General Population Americans, mapped to the U.S. Census on key demographics, with an oversample of General Population respondents in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia (see figure). Respondents also included some from opinion experts, health and environmentally-conscious consumers, government officials, academics, employees of non-governmental organizations, utility company business decision makers, and engineers.
(Source: Forbes Online)
Dr. James Conca is an expert on energy, nuclear and dirty bombs, a planetary geologist, and a professional speaker. Follow him on Twitter @jimconca and see his book at Amazon.com