ALCOSAN, and other responsible parties should establish both electronic and traditional communication links readily available to the public. The Internet and e-mail make it possible to provide a full range of data, action proposals, and other information to the public at modest cost.
Participation by elected and appointed representatives of planning, management, and regulatory agencies who make key decisions is essential, but a word of caution is appropriate. Leaders in the drinking water industry in many regions of the country may not be adequately informed as to what the public is willing to pay for improved quality. In the late 1990s, the American Water Works Association conducted a series of surveys that showed the public was far more willing to spend money for drinking water quality improvement than its leaders expected (Reekie, 2000). The history of public votes on water quality improvements is largely positive. The proper manner to judge such support is presentation of specific proposals with full disclosure of benefits and costs to which the public can respond through its elected and appointed representatives.
If specific proposals are to be supported, a greater level of public education and participation in the process would appear to be needed. In November of 2000, the Pennsylvania Economy League sponsored a telephone-based survey (Pennsylvania Economy League, 2000) that produced some revealing results, among them are the following:
among all public problems, sewerage issues ranked ninth (only 2 percent said this was the most important problem facing the community);
when asked the degree of concern on a scale of 0 to 100, water contamination, clean drinking water, and water pollution were in the 50 to 60 percent range for sewerage users and owners of OSTDSs;
about one-fourth thought the waters were extremely polluted—the remainder thought they were not very polluted;
two-thirds were knowledgeable about their sewerage systems;
50 percent did not think sewers were causing contamination;
30 percent felt they should pay to solve community problems;
16 percent opposed consolidation even if it meant lowering their water bill;
30 percent believed their community was contributing to water contamination;
most significantly favored future support for water quality improvements;
80 percent said they would fix an on-site condition if it was contributing to the region’s water quality problem;
50 percent would pay more to assist low-income, elderly, and OSTDS users; and
community growth was attractive to two-thirds of users of OSTDSs.
Finally, the survey concluded that providing additional information about important water issues and their relationship to the community was needed and that homeowners would pay more if they were shown to be part of the problem and its solution.
Results of the survey reveal that although water quality issues have not been overlooked, they are perceived to be a major problem by only a few. Those results also indicate that whereas there is a willingness to pay more to solve these problems, it depends on better education of the public as to the sources of problems and their solutions.