Image credit: “DROUGHT,” Thelma, 2008

Weather plays an important role in how Americans think about water. And I don’t mean when it’s raining, we decide to grab a raincoat.

Take the attitude of Californians about their water as a perfect illustration. In May 2015, in the midst of a catastrophic drought that saw a spate of celebrity water shamings and deep concerns about depleting aquifers, The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that 39 percent of residents believed water to be the most critical issue facing the state. For the first time since the PPIC started polling in 1998, concerns over water overshadowed other issues such as jobs and the economy as the State’s top issue.

However, the same survey conducted two years later in May 2017, after Governor Jerry Brown had signed an executive order lifting California’s drought emergency, found that water had fallen off the “weather map.” Jobs and the economy was back to the top of the list as the number one issue facing California (22 percent of responses) with immigration being the second most critical issue (11 percent). This year’s survey found that Californians mentioning water and the drought has dropped by ten percentage points (16 percent to 6 percent).

The same attitudes are prevalent throughout the country. In the midst of the Texas drought, Wichita Falls installed a 12.5-mile pipeline to bring treated wastewater to its Cypress Water Treatment Plant to be blended 50-50 with a mix of lake water. With the arrival of heavy springtime rains however, the pipeline was immediately cut off. The city has since moved to a system of indirect potable reuse where the treated wastewater is now deposited into Lake Arrowhead before arriving at the water treatment facility.

In the water industry, we’re often plagued by the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind.” In our information-rich world, it’s hard for utilities to engage customers in supporting the value of water when competing for attention with MLB World Series updates, news of federal indictments and any number of family members posting on Facebook. That’s why collaborative efforts such as Imagine A Day Without Water are so important in maintaining awareness of the work that goes into treating wastewater and delivering clean water to our citizenry.