By Karen R. Smith
I want to thank those who took the time to contact me regarding last month’s column. If you are keeping score, about 75 percent of the respondents agreed with my statement that the water industry needs to change tactics: become more aggressive and find different partners to move forward successfully. The 25 percent who disagreed feel that as a whole, we have prospered for many years by taking a passive and private stance, cooperating when possible and staying clear of out-of-industry alliances.
This dialog will, I hope, continue—the exchange of ideas on our future is vital to each of us in the long term. I’d like to suggest a related topic for discussion: ethics and the proactive practice thereof. As consumer confidence in municipal water weakens, folks are seeking alternatives and they are not just turning to WQA members. I truly wish they were!
Here in Arizona, there is a company advertising on a mainstream radio station reaching several counties. They promote their bottled water and water purification systems (all the standard types, RO/UV/ozonation/softening) but do so by taking advantage of listeners’ ignorance, claiming that what they are drinking might be killing them or their children. They propose to prove the evils of the listener’s current water in a home visit and meanwhile, they suggest visiting their website. There, they illustrate their fearful claim with that old, outlawed dog-and-pony-show precipitation test that makes the sample turn black and scares the beegeesus out of the homeowner.
On the other side of the country, a man has set up a website claiming to be an Institute and it has all the hallmarks of an official government or scholastic entity. It is neither. His specialty is misinformation. “Did you know the EPA does not regulate bottled water?” is one of his questions. The website alarms and implies that those who imbibe might be swallowing who-knows-what. We know that it is the FDA which regulates bottled waters but those reading this charlatan’s website, by and large, do not. He informs folks that their lives may be at risk, but for $14.95 he’ll send them a book explaining what is and is not safe to drink and for $49.95 he will train them to test their own water.
What of the national and regional WQAs? All have ethics standards—among the highest in the nation in terms of trade associations. Yet all seem to shy away from the proactive practices that would demonstrate them to the public at large, where they might do the most good. Right now, if you find a huckster trying to frighten consumers into buying a lifetime supply of magic water, to steal a line from the old Ghostbusters movie, “Who you gonna call?” Our own ethics would have more meaning if we acted to protect consumers in concert with the governmental agencies that work toward the same goals. If local dealers reach out to the morning news show in their area to warn of scam tactics by professed water experts, they will garner a great deal of positive publicity for those who honestly and honorably supply consumers with water conditioning and purification products and services.
As an industry, our future is anything but assured. More and more regions are facing rising TDS levels because of agricultural fertilizer runoff and water reuse. Coastal areas are looking seriously at desal. The costs associated with municipal treatment plants are exponential—which means they are political suicide for those proposing them. Far better to make them a last resort after all possible low cost strategies have been shown insufficient. The banning of water softeners is one of those low-cost strategies, an ideal political scapegoat. As a utility representative said recently, water softeners don’t even make the top 10 when identifying sources of rising salinity. But they are the easiest thing to ban, which makes them first. Together we can change that.
Wishing you and yours all the joys of the holiday season!