Authors: Food and Water Watch
By Mary Grant
A range of private players in the water arena, including water service companies like American Water, are part of a relatively new corporate effort to coordinate public outreach about the “Value of Water.”
It is a fairly clever PR tactic that plays on two meanings of the word value: importance and monetary worth. The idea seems to be to convince the public to pay more for water service by tying water’s importance to its price.
The argument goes: Something of great value is worth a lot and should be priced accordingly, so if you think water is important, you should pay more for it. Although illogical, this line of thought is supposed to make people more amenable to hikes in their water bills and even to pricing water on a market.
Without a doubt, water is important. In fact, it is too important to let whims of Wall Street dictate access to it and too important to let price force families to go without it.
Xylem, Inc., a water technology firm that spun off from ITT Corp. last year, is one company that has been touting the Value of Water.
The firm was a sponsor of the American Water Summit, an industry conference held last month, and used the venue to talk about its Value of Water campaign. Xylem CEO Gretchen McClain was one of the conference’s keynote speakers and presented the findings of her company’s 2012 Value of Water Index, a national poll of U.S. voters about water infrastructure issues.
She presented four main findings:
1) People recognize the importance of water
2) Government has a mandate to act on water issues
3) People take personal responsibility and are willing to pay more for water service
4) There was a level of disconnect – while people recognize water’s importance, they underestimated water usage and the cost of infrastructure and took water service for granted.
Her proposed solution was for businesses to come together with one voice in a water coalition to support a PR campaign about the value of water.
What she left out of her presentation was interesting. She didn’t point out that the survey found greater support for government investment than for rate hikes: 85 percent of respondents believed the government should invest money in updating water systems, while 61 percent were willing to pay more to upgrade water systems.
For some reason, her presentation also excluded the survey finding that 98 percent of respondents “believe every American deserves clean water.”
Perhaps we should give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that these omissions were due to the nature of the audience, packed with corporate execs and privatization shills.
A public education campaign about the importance of water would be beneficial if only these companies weren’t using messaging that is misleading and undercuts the human right to water to boost their bottom line.
Water isn’t just valuable; it’s invaluable. Access to water is essential for life and public wellbeing. Everyone, regardless of ability to pay, has a right to safe and clean water.
Read our report “Priceless: The Market Myth of Water Pricing Reform”