Municipal drinking water is strictly regulated by the USEPA. We spend a lot of time testing our water, producing reports, and providing our customers with information on our results. The results show it works, because the number of incidents of contaminated water are few, and rarely affect larger utility systems. We are so good at providing water that the public expects their water to be safe, yet the buy bottled water? Wait, huh? Bottled water? Bottled water is not regulated by the USEPA and is not subject to the same requirements as potable water. There are less than three full time people at FDA inspecting bottled water facilities, versus thousands reviewing public water supplies. Water utilities run millions of analyses per year and must publish the results. So why do they buy bottled water when our water is safe?
Keep in mind that in many areas of the world, the bottled water industries move in and compete for the same supplies as we currently use. North Florida is rife with arguments over flows to springs as are other areas. Some of the water is simply repackaged tap water. So in addition to competing for our customers, they are competing with the sustainability of our drinking water supplies. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of bottles that end up in landfills. More impact on sustainability. At the same time, bottled water is more costly that gasoline, which everyone complains about, but that does not stop the purchases? So what’s up?
Marketing that’s what. We don’t market water. I noted in an earlier blog that we simply don’t market our product, which has allowed others to compete for the same dollars. Customers complain about rate hikes, (averaging about 5% per year for the past 10 years according to the new AWWA study), yet they happily pay over $4/gallons for many of the popular bottled waters, more and more cable channels, fancy phones, etc. Not that any of these commercial products are per se bad, but none are required for survival like water.
Interestingly when we do market, it reaps positive results. New York and San Francisco have seen the wisdom of marketing for year. They ship New York tap water to Florida to make Brooklyn style bagel because Florida Water doesn’t taste the same. DC Water changed its name, and began a marketing campaign that changed public perception of the utility and has allowed it to start dealing with its infrastructure backlog. Some of their ideas include branding the water, and having restaurants serve it in marked glasses, paid for by the utility. Signs on drinking fountains, in schools and even sales of tap water in stores are options some utilities have started. But the key is started. Marketing takes dollars, to reap benefits. Who knows, maybe tap water is the next bottled water….