Drinking treated water provides numerous benefits to our health and prevents unappealing pollutants, bacteria, viruses and parasites found in untreated water from entering our bodies. Despite these health benefits and availability of treated water, you may find that some members of your community continue to drink untreated water. We rarely know what pollutants and harmful microorganisms are present in untreated water sources, but we do know that many of these common contaminants cause a range of ailments, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and even pneumonia. As local leaders, it is important to address this issue since you are responsible for building the capacity of your people to protect themselves against such serious health risks.
There are a number of reasons why members of your community may choose to drink untreated water. For older community members, it may simply be a practice that they are accustomed to. Some people may collect untreated water because they aren’t able or willing to pay for the treated water, while others may be weary of the chemicals in the treated water. If drinking untreated water is a concern in your community, apply the following steps to develop an intervention that meets your community’s needs and promotes consumption of safe treated water:
- Conduct a formative assessment to determine why community members choose to drink untreated water.
- Test local untreated water sources to identify the contaminants present.
- Educate yourself on the source and health impacts of the contaminants found in local untreated water.
- Raise awareness in the community by sharing information on:
- The risks associated with contaminants found in local untreated water.
- The value and benefits of drinking treated water.
- Additional barriers to treated water access specific to your community (e.g. price, concern about chemicals, etc.)
Resources to help you achieve these steps can be found by expanding the topics listed below:
Educating Customers About Water Contaminants
Community members who choose to drink untreated water may not be aware of the associated health risks. Raise awareness by talking to community members about the different types of contaminants present in their untreated water source. You also could choose to speak generally about common contaminants, but it will be more impactful to test your community’s untreated sources so that you can speak about the specific contaminants most relevant to you and your people. Call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline for information on testing local water sources and help finding the certified water testing lab nearest to you.
Once you know which contaminants are present in your untreated water, visit this Table of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants to learn more about the source and public health impacts of those particular contaminants.
For more information on how to talk to community members about contaminants and to learn more about chronic contaminants (contaminants in which health impact occurs only after long term exposure), check out the EPA’s “Talking to Your Customers About Chronic Contaminants in Drinking Water: A Best Practices Guide.” It gives a general overview of chronic contaminants, what customers want to know, how chronic contaminants are regulated, required public notifications and best practices for customer communication.
Easing Concern About Chemicals in Treated Water
Some people are weary of the chemicals used to treat water. They may be turned off by the taste or smell of chlorine. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of ingesting fluoride. These are legitimate concerns that can be addressed through education and outreach. Click on the button below to access resource that will help you to educate community members on chlorine and fluoride.
Promoting Trust in Treated Water
The more your customers know about the treated water in your community, the easier it will be for them to trust and feel confident drinking it. Click on the link below for actions you can take to help build that trust such as: providing clear Consumer Confidence Reports, facilitating water treatment plant tours and educating community members on the water treatment process.
Ensuring That Treated Water is Affordable
The price of water can be a formidable barrier to access – some people simply aren’t able to afford their water bill, leaving them with no other option than to use untreated water. Water affordability can be especially challenging in northern communities where the high-energy consumption required to keep systems from freezing during the winter leads to water and wastewater bills as high as $200 per month. Click the link below for more information on determining what is affordable in your community, setting optimal rates, and affordability programs for those customers with a genuine inability to pay their water and wastewater bills.
Promoting Connection to Local Water
In order to change community members’ perceptions toward treated and untreated water, it helps to engage them in positive conversations about community water sources. The section on Promoting Connection to Local Water offers many approaches to: celebrate water through art, share traditional knowledge, water conservation, youth education and engaging in difficult conversations. Key segments of these activities could be used to initiate positive community discussions about the risks of drinking untreated water or the wariness of drinking treated water.