Visualizing The Way Americans Value Water

It’s a pretty precious resource, considering that we need it to live. But do we actually care enough to change our behavior to make sure we have it in the future?

The aging water infrastructure in the U.S. is fragile, to say the least; every year, over 1.7 trillion gallons of water are lost due to leaks and breaks in the system. It’s never good to waste water, but that’s a staggeringly unacceptable figure at a time when the country is facing unprecedented droughts. But on a grassroots level, things may be starting to change. Water technology company Xylem’s new Value of Water Index, which examines American attitudes toward water, indicates that the public is finally realizing the magnitude of our water problem—and that everyone might need to pitch in to fix it.

According to the report—culled from a survey of 1,008 voters in the U.S.—79% of Americans realize we have a water scarcity problem. That may seem high, but 86% of respondents also say they have dealt with water shortages and contamination, meaning it takes a lot (or is just impossible) to convince some people. A whopping 88% of respondents think the country’s water structure needs reform.

The problem is, while 85% of people want more government investment, no one is quite sure whether big or small government can best handle the problem: 39% of respondents trust local and municipal governments, 27% want help from state governments, and 22% think the federal government should help out. Realistically, it is probably the local and state governments that will do the most. Around the world, cities are taking the lead on smart water management.

Americans also think they have some personal responsibility for the crisis—specifically, 31% of respondents think they should have to pay a bit more on water bills for infrastructure improvements. If Americans upped their monthly water bill by just $7.70, we would see an extra $6.4 billion for water infrastructure investments.

In spite of everything, 69% of those polled say they take clean water for granted, and just 29% think problems with our water infrastructure will seriously affect them (remember: the vast majority of respondents have dealt with water shortages and contamination already). Water awareness still has a long way to go—but it will most likely be sped up as water shortages become more common.

Here’s the whole infographic:

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  • Parker


    I was fascinated by the use of the infographic for such an
    important topic as water sustainability. You were able to explain a
    large sample of data in a clear and concise manner which is extremely
    easy for the reader to comprehend. It is a very important post that
    touches on the visual appeal to the reader while offering important and
    relevant information that the public should know about. As an
    environmental engineering student focusing on water sustainability
    within my core classes, this topic really interested me. It was very
    important for me to be able to see how the average American citizen
    views the idea of water and its importance headed into the future. The
    statistics of your post are interesting in their own right, but I find
    that some of these topics are best when combined and compared with one
    another. To me, it is interesting to see that 86% of people “say they
    have experienced the impact of water shortages and contamination” while
    69% of Americans “generally take access to clean water for granted.” In
    addition, only 79% of people “recognize demands on water resources are
    growing and water is becoming increasingly scarce”. This simple
    combination of stats goes to show that many of the people who have
    experienced shortages and contamination continue to take clean water for
    granted and/or don’t realize our propensity for drought and shortage
    even after they have experienced these limitations.

    All of the
    information in the graphic is important, but some of the numbers seem to
    jump out at me. The fact that because of our shaky infrastructure, we
    lose 1.7 trillion gallons of water per year is staggering. That 1.7
    trillion gallons is water that has gone through a complete water
    treatment plant consisting of coagulation, flocculation, and sedimentation
    among many other processes. As the graphic shows, the total cost of
    this water loss is a baffling $2.6 billion. I understand that the only
    logical way to fix this problem within our country is to fix the
    infrastructure, however there are many other statistics in this post
    with intangible implications. What do you think is the best way that we
    can get this information out to the masses? Surely, we both believe that
    each and every person should see this infographic and better understand
    the potential crisis we have on our hands.