Water quality not as high as US utilities report, new study reveals


Thirty per cent of residential water consumers in the US have water quality issues, according to a study conducted by J.D Power.

The research firm’s 2018 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study states that consumer queries on water quality are by far higher than what has been reported in the Consumer Confidence Reports produced by local water authorities and published by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the key findings by J.D Power include:

  • Amongst the 30% of residential water utility customers, 12% cite low pressure; 11% cite bad taste; 8% cite scaling/water hardness; 8% cite discoloration; 6% cite bad smell; and 4% cite high lead/mineral content.
  • There is a wide variation in customer perceptions of water quality: The best water utilities have less than 20% of their customers indicating a problem with water quality. The majority of utilities have more than 40% of their customers citing a water quality problem.
  • Water quality problems sink customer satisfaction: Customers who experience water quality problems have significantly lower delivery satisfaction scores than those who experience no problems.
  • Communication is key when implementing upgrades: One of the highest negative effects on satisfaction is a service interruption caused by pipeline work.
  • Frequent communication maximises satisfaction: Customers who recall receiving four to five communications from their water utility have communications satisfaction scores that are 148 points higher than among those who do not recall receiving any direct communications.
  • E-bill satisfaction is higher than for paper bill: Billing and payment satisfaction among customers who receive their bill electronically is much higher than among those who receive a paper bill.

The study ranks utilities’ customer satisfaction according in their respective region:

Louisville Water and Saint Paul Regional Water Services have been ranked first in Midwest, Boston Water and Sewer Commission and Monroe County Water Authority lead in the North East whilst Gwinnett County and Eastern Municipal Water District have been ranked first in the South and West, respectively.

Andrew Heath, Senior Director of the Utility Practice at J.D. Power, said: “While the mandated water quality reports produced by regional water authorities do a great job of measuring specific water quality issues, they are not telling the whole story when it comes to perceptions of the water that is coming out of customers’ faucets.

“Whether it’s a serious problem like high lead or mineral counts, or a more subjective issue like bad taste or low pressure, a significant number of residential water utility customers are not happy with the product.  Water utilities need to understand why customer views are not matching the views of the water utility and need to address these concerns.”

This is the third year J.D Power has conducted its Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study.

The study was done on 88 water utilities and looked at six factors including water delivery, price, conservation, billing and payment, communications and customer service.