National Drinking Water Clearinghouse
West Virginia University
PO Box 6893
Morgantown, WV

Is the CCR really increasing consumer confidence?

by Jude Hutchinson, Environmental Analyst
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

We know that consumer confidence reports (CCR) are supposed to be a tool to boost the public’s impression of their drinking water. But is the CCR doing what it is supposed to do?

In our four regional offices, CCR compliance and technical assistance staff said they do not receive calls from consumers. Most consumers do not call their PWS with questions or comments either. The Springfield Water and Sewer Department serves 43,000 people, but only received four calls in 2001. Kathy Pedersen, CCR coordinator, said she had two calls: one caller complained about the printing and mailing costs and another person thought the CCR should not be printed during financially difficult times. Pedersen said that their CCR costs about 45 cents per copy to produce and still thinks that interested consumers will read it.

Does the CCR provide too much information?

Most people that I spoke with said, “Yes.” But Liz Kotowski, technical assistant in our Worcester office, says that consumers want to know that their water meets federal and state standards. Although they care about treatment and aesthetics, the details are too technical for most people. However, waterworks professionals and staff are better educated about their water systems as a result of preparing CCRs.
Eva Tor, technical assistant in our Springfield office, said, “Yes.” She said that suppliers she contacts rarely get any kind of response on their CCR. If they do, it tends to be negative. She encourages PWSs to keep their report to two pages, to use a template, and then spice it up with color and graphics.

What can the PWS do to improve readership?

Joan Sozio, water commissioner in Foxborough, encourages PWSs to state upfront that they meet all the state and federal standards but exceed a few. Explain what the numbers mean. For example, if you detect iron or manganese, mention that the number refers to the aesthetic quality or physical appearance and is not a health threat.

Top 10 Tips to Improve Your CCR

1. Simplify—Keep in mind that the average consumer is not as familiar with water quality data as you are, so keep it simple.

2. Upfront and Online—Highlight the most important information upfront. Remember, customers care about the bottom line. Are you doing a good job and is there anything they need to know about their water quality?

3. Ask for Help—Ask for help from another supplier, state office, or waterworks professional organization. Check out waterworks’ Web sites. One of our regional coordinators found that PWS that asked for help usually produced the best reports.

4. Do Not:
• Use a type size smaller than 10
• List contaminants that are not detected
• Forget to in vvclude your PWS identification number and contact information
• Use the same format every year

5. Do:
Highlight the language required for vulnerable populations. A non-profit environmental group that reviewed CCRs in Massachusetts said many PWS did not highlight this important language.

6. Involve the Health Department—Take time to meet with your local health department before you release your CCR. Tell them about specific detected contaminant and how you worked to resolve the problems. Chances are that if someone has a problem with your drinking water, they are more likely to ask the health department or someone other than the water department.

7. Give the Consumer Something—Offer your consumers something to help them lower their water cost, such as tips on water conservation, or how to reduce the chlorine taste of their water.

8. Involve Consumers—Ask for their help in protecting the watershed or for support at a town meeting. Give them an opportunity to help.

9. Network—Use your local health department, senior citizen organizations, conservation or environmental committee, watershed and civic associations, or any large community non-profit group to promote your message. Convene a meeting to discuss your CCR early in the process. Build a coalition of people and get their opinion on your past report and how to make the next one better. At the same time, you can educate them about your water quality and build readership and confidence.

10. Wrap it Up—Use color
in your report and use a good quality graphic, especially on the cover, so that it will be picked-up and read. Remember, you provide your consumers with a safe supply of drinking water and want them to read all about it.

About the Author
Jude Hutchinson is an environmental analyst in the Drinking Water Program at Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. She coordinates the CCR program statewide.