The online RCAP Resources Library has a variety of resources that are useful to small, rural drinking water and wastewater systems.

Building Consumer Confidence

It’s that time of year again – time to start working on the Consumer Confidence Reports.

The idea behind the reports, or CCRs, is to help your customers understand what you’re doing to keep their drinking water safe and available. It’s easy enough to just slap raw data onto a sheet, but is that really beneficial to you or your customers?

We’ll outline here exactly what you need in the reports and when they should be sent out and filed. We’ll also provide a few references to help you write your CCRs correction, plus we’ll offer a few tips on how to write your CCR so that your consumers not only read them, but understand them as well.

Delivering the basics

The 1998 Consumer Confidence Rule sets the basics for what customers should be told about their water and their water system. The Consumer Confidence Report is required for any system with 15 or more service connections or 25 customers or more.
Let’s review the requirements of what must be in the CCR. Here is what you must have in the report:

Water Education

  • Name and phone number of contact person for the water system
  • Information on public participation opportunities, such as meeting times and locations
  • Information for non-English speakers, if applicable
  • An explanation of contaminants and their presence in drinking water, including bottled water
  • A warning for vulnerable consumers about Cryptosporidium
  • Informational statements on arsenic, nitrate, lead and TTHM, as required by state
  • The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline number, 1-800-426-4791

Water Sources

  • Type, name and location of water sources used by the system (exact locations of wells and intakes should be left off for security reasons)
  • Where and how to get a copy of the source water’s latest assessment

Water Definitions 

  • Maximum Contaminant Level, or MCL, the highest amount allowed by the EPA in drinking water
  • Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, or MCLG, the contaminant level below which there is no known or expected health risk
  • Treatment techniques used to reduce or eliminate any contaminants found
  • Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level, or MRDL, which represents the level of disinfectant added that cannot be exceeded at the customer’s tap without an unacceptable possibility of risk to health

Water Contaminants

  • Summary of regulated and unregulated contaminants detected during the last round of sampling
  • The known or likely source of each such contaminant
  • Descriptions of possible effects on health for each contaminant
  • Information on Cryptosporidium, Radon and other contaminants as required by each state

Water Compliance

  • Explanation of any violations, their length of time and potential health effects, and how they were corrected
  • Explanation of any variances or exemptions allowed in the system

 

‘No habla agua’

Today we’re being dominated by high pressure producing non-precipitation conditions and excessive warmth while arresting the formation of cumulus or even cirrus cover. However, the pressure gradient has tightened, signaled by the close proximity of the isobars, resulting in high-velocity movement in the lower atmosphere.
Or, you could just say, “It’s sunny and windy today.”
This may be a bit extreme, but it’s an example of how CCRs may look to your consumers. Sure, it may be easier to just slap the required information onto a piece of paper and slide it into an envelope or stuff it in with the bill. But just because it’s easier for you doesn’t mean it’s easier, or even good, for your customers.
The CCR not only offers you a chance to let your customers know exactly what the system is doing, but it can let them know what you are doing to improve your system and, as a result, their quality of life. Are you changing up the chemicals or using a new product to produce better tasting water? Are you upgrading the system to alleviate pressure and quality problems in one part of town or another? Have you made system changes to reduce or eliminate any state or federal violations compared to the year before? Was there extenuating circumstances regarding any violations, and what have you done to correct the problem?
You work hard to keep water quality the best it can be. This is your chance to let your customers know that. In other words, the CCR isn’t just about the numbers. It’s about letting your customers know exactly where their money goes, and how hard you are working to ensure it’s money well spent.
The main trick to making a good CCR for the consumer is to present your information in a way that the general consumer can understand. Remember, not everyone speaks “water” as fluently as you do.
Another example of an industry with a lot of jargon is the computer industry. Things that computer engineers say may not make a lot of sense to the rest of us. Those that don’t normally deal with the computer industry may not get the difference between a gigabyte hard drive and a terabyte hard drive. So if you say, “We’re very exciting to be moving from 1 gigabyte drives to 1 terabyte drives for our backup systems,” they may not understand why that is significant.
However, if you say “We’re excited to be moving from 1 gigabyte drives to 1 terabyte drives for our backup systems, because it will give us 10 times more space and will run faster. That means our drives will be down for maintenance less often and for shorter times.” That puts it in a perspective for everyone. They understand the difference from one drive to another, and they understand how the change will affect them.

User-friendly CCR

Computer manufacturers knew they could sell to those proficient in using computers. Their goal was to sell to those who had never had computers before. To achieve that, for the most part, they made computers more “user friendly” by making tasks simpler and by putting instructions in plain English.
Try doing the same with your CCRs. Saying “We’re upgrading to a microfiber filtration system to reduce contaminants to 0.002 ppm.” You understand that. Your customer may not.
“We’re upgrading to a microfiber filtration system, which uses special filters to reduce contaminants to 0.002 ppm. That’s about equal to putting a drop of red dye into an Olympic-size swimming pool.” The first part may not completely make sense, but when paired with the visual example, it’s easier to understand.
Here’s another suggestion to help your customers understand the report better – consider adding a small glossary of terms somewhere on the form. Place a small box with some of the more confusing words and their definitions. Another option would be to put an asterisk next to an industry term and explain it in footnotes below the text.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a suggestion to “dumb down” your reports. You don’t want to write the report to a fifth-grade level. It isn’t that your customers can’t understand the concepts. It has more to do with industry jargon making things more confusing. So it’s OK to use big words, just so long as they’re fairly common big words.
Many consumers do want to know what’s in their water and what they’re water system is doing to bring safe drinking water to them. The utility is an investment for them and their families. But a lack of industry jargon may make it difficult for them to understand exactly what you’re trying to say in your CCR. Following a few guidelines can make it easier for your customers to understand what you’re doing.
Here are a few basic tips to remember when writing up your CCRs:

  • Keep industry jargon to a minimum while making sure you meet the basic requirements.
  • Explain the numbers and units, either in the text or in a separate section (i.e. what does “parts per million” mean?).
  • Cite everyday items or situations when you explain what things mean.
  • Don’t “dumb down” your sentences. Industry jargon can be explained with out a “Dick and Jane” feel.
  • Provide a way for consumers to get more information, perhaps by suggestion a reference or web site where such information can be explained further.

These tips can help you communicate better with your customers, which can improve relations with your customers in the long run. That can have some great benefits – especially if you foresee a rate increase in the future.