Our original goal in creating this document in 2011 was to provide a protocol and practical toolbox, based upon research and identified practices, for communicating with stakeholders and the public about water advisories.
The project was a collaborative effort among the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)External, the American Water Works Association (AWWA)External, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)External, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA)External and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).External
A technical workgroup of public health and drinking water agencies and drinking water system experts advised and guided the project. The project also engaged a broad cross-section of relevant stakeholders and technical experts including local government officials, emergency response professionals, and hazard communication experts.
This toolbox was reviewed by EPA and state primacy agencies. Every effort was made to ensure that it complied with the Public Notification Rule, when necessary.
More than 500 documents, protocols, regulations, and other resources related to the issuing of drinking water advisories were compiled. Nearly 100 interviews were conducted with staff of water systems, primacy agencies, and local public health departments in the United States and Canada.
These findings revealed:
- Advice to the public varies widely from state to state and community to community.
- Advisories are a common occurrence in some states and a rare event in others.
- Major incidents or disasters were the primary reasons for collaboration between the staff of drinking water systems and health departments.
- Terminology for advisories is inconsistent.
- Templates and advisory content are difficult to change or adapt to specific audiences or needs.
- The EPA Public Notification Handbook is the primary information source for drinking water advisories.
- Agency responsibilities for communicating with institutions, such as hospitals, schools, and restaurants, are highly variable.
- Good relationships between water systems and local public health departments are often dependent on established relationships between individuals.
- Local health departments may lack the resources or expertise to address drinking water issues.
- Local health departments are willing to be consulted by water systems when requested.