The United States Environmental Protection Agency implements a national drinking-water program under the authority of the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Amendments to the Act in 1996 added new provisions to enhance consumer understanding of drinking-water issues. Notification requirements associated with annual consumer confidence reports, source water assessments and state compliance reports are intended to enhance the public's knowledge of the quality of their drinking water. Water utilities are also subject to public notification requirements to provide more timely information to consumers in response to violations of health standards. These right-to-know requirements are intended to build the public's confidence, but communicating with consumers can be challenging for both utility managers and government leaders. This paper discusses the need for timely communication, the challenge of providing information when there is uncertainty in the science and the importance of preparing to respond to critical incidents. Because surveys have shown that other members of the community may have better access to consumers or are more trusted, it is important for water utilities to establish relationships with the media and the local public health community.

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