Value of Water Index Demonstrates Americans’ Water Concerns (and Disconnects)

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Photo of absurd warning courtesy Leon Kaye

Xylem, a global water technology provider that generated over $3 billion in revenues last fiscal year, recently released its sponsored The Value of Water Index. The polling of over 1,000 Americans, to whom the company asked dozens of questions, reveals the disconnect between the public’s awareness over growing water scarcity and of course, who they think should pay for the country’s water problems.

Clearly the long simmering water crisis in the San Joaquin Valley, droughts in states such as Georgia, floods in the Midwest and this summer’s devastating drought has instilled a sense of urgency in Americans. With water and electricity the resources Americans almost unanimously believe are most important, 88 percent of the respondents Xylem polled acknowledge the country’s infrastructure needs reform. But when the questions drilled down to what individuals should do, and who should pay, an interesting debate begins.

Overall Americans realize that they have a personal stake and need to contribute to shoring up the country’s water infrastructure. When Xylem ran a similar poll in 2010, only 24 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay more. That ratio jumped to 61 percent this year despite local rate increases that have been typical across the U.S. Based on the 12 percent average increase that respondents said they would be willing to pay, that would leave governments about $6.4 billion–six times what is available in the U.S. EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund–to maintain the nation’s water systems.

Disconnect, however, remains. More than half the poll’s participants believed they only used about 50 gallons of water daily when the amount is actually double that figure. And only 29 percent of Americans believed that water infrastructure problems would cause “a great deal” of problems, a rate down from 41 percent in 2010. By far a majority, 69 percent, admit that they take clean water for granted.

A supermajority of Americans, 88 percent, believe that government should be accountable for fixing the country’s water infrastructure. And in a nod to admitting that water stewardship is largely a local problem, 33 percent believe that municipal governments should take the lead, with fewer respondents entrusting the state and federal governments to lead on this issue.

Should business have a role in fixing the nation’s water systems? Interestingly enough, many participants in the Xylem poll gave the business community a cold shoulder. Only 25 percent of respondents trusted companies to take the lead; 43 percent did not trust businesses on water issues, indicating that most citizens view water as a public good. So despite the oft-repeated calls insisting that water is underpriced, Americans overall still trust government to protect and secure fresh water. At least that will be the case until municipalities hike water rates at a level people would find unacceptable.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter.

Image credit: Leon Kaye

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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