Who will pay and who will suffer?

By Lucas Barinaga

NB: We thank Hope4Flint for helping us distribute our surveys and collect answers. The responses underneath may reflect a bias of sourcing data via a single channel. (We tried to get data from more people — the survey was public — but the people of Flint may be tired of answering outsiders’ questions. Our survey results are based on 20-21 r

Solutions in Flint will depend on ability to pay — and willingness to pay. To get an idea of ability, we asked our anonymous respondents their household monthly income:

It looks as if around 2/3rds of our respondents make less than the US median household income of $4.600 per month. This figure might be sufficient to pay for water service (the average bill is $75/month in nearby Detroit, which is both more expensive than the national average but perhaps cheaper than Flint bills would be if customers had to pay to restore their system), but 90% of our respondents are unwilling to pay for water service, leaving comments such as ‘I am only paying for flushing the toilet’ or ‘why pay if you are still being poisoned?’

Who should pay? 80 percent said the state of Michigan and 20 percent said the city of Flint. Sadly, when asked a follow up question (“Do you feel that the government is effectively trying to solve this crisis?”), most said No.

Unfortunately for the people of Flint, the government is not stepping in, which means they need to choose between paying for “poisoned water” or losing their home. As of May 19th, more than 8,000 Flint residents have been threatened with foreclosure for failure to pay their bills.

Are they not paying because they are too poor or too unwilling? The answer may not seem important when the system needs money to pay for costs and restoration (the cost of new supplies coming from Detroit just increased by 4.7%), but it’s important to the people of Flint. Why should they have to pay when others have messed up their city’s water system?

Update (14 June): “Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged five water officials — including a member of Gov. Rick Snyder’s cabinet and a former emergency manager — with manslaughter related to their alleged failure to act in during the Flint Water Crisis.”

To drink or not to drink Flint’s tap water?

By Lucas Barinaga

NB: We thank Hope4Flint for helping us distribute our surveys and collect answers. The responses underneath may reflect a bias of sourcing data via a single channel. (We tried to get data from more people — the survey was public — but the people of Flint may be tired of answering outsiders’ questions. Our survey results are based on 20-21 responses.)

Our campaign in Flint helped us understand citizens’ resilience, perseverance and a painstakingly slow path to normality.

The answers to our first question (“Do you drink Flint tap water?”) were surprising but explainable:

 

 

 

 

 

Why did so many people say yes? It appeared that most people who answered “yes”  misunderstood the question, as 95% of respondents later said they “knew nobody who drinks Flint water.”

Where did they get their drinking water from? 90 percent said they get it from stores, donations or PODS (water resource sites that offer filters, bottled water and water testing kits).

Even though we expected that our respondents would not drink tap water, we thought that were avoiding it because they did not know how to get or use the water filters that are widely available. We were wrong: 80 percent of respondents knew how to purify their water with filters, but they still don’t want to drink it.

Galway survey responses 2

By Ailish Lalor

In our first post about water quality in Galway, Ireland, we introduced you to our respondents’ backgrounds and their usage and experience of water. This post discusses their experience of water quality and opinions of Irish Water, the water provider for Ireland.

NB: These results may be slightly biased as most of our respondents were probably connected to our local partners in Galway — Right2Water and Galway University.

What was their experience of water quality?

Nearly half of our 77 respondents claimed their water had a funny taste or smell, while 36% believed there was pollution in the water, 22.7% believed there was baceria or parasites in the water, and 28% had another unidentified cause for concern with regard to the water. Only 25% said they had no concerns.

How was their relationship with Irish Water?

56% were paying a water charge to Irish Water, while 16% said they had a legal reason for not paying these charges (e.g., a well) and the remaining 28% did not pay because they had a moral objection to paying charges.

In terms of willingness to pay, 32% said they were content to pay the water charges while 13% said they were too high, 46% had a non-price objection to them and 9% said “not applicable” — perhaps because they are drinking well water.

93% rated Irish Water’s attempts to solve water quality issues below 5/10. When it comes to water charges, 51% said that water users should pay, while 23%, 14% and 8% said the national government, city council or businesses should pay. 22% of respondents were unhappy with the customer service they received from Irish Water, 5% were happy and 73% had never been in contact with the organisation.

Galway survey responses 1

By Ailish Lalor

After three months of effort, we are happy to announce that the survey results for Galway, Ireland, are out! In case you haven’t been following our journey so far, we launched our Galway campaign in late February to understand how Galway residents perceived their drinking water quality. This post introduces our 77 respondents in terms of their backgrounds and daily interactions with water. (The next post will be about water quality and Irish Water.)

NB: These results may be slightly biased as most of our respondents were probably connected to our local partners in Galway — Right2Water and Galway University.

Who are our respondents?
72% of respondents were 18-25 years old. 68% had an income of less than €1000 per month. 98.7% had lived in Galway for more than six months. 4% lived alone.

Where did they get their water and how did they use it?
98.6% got their water from the mains. 60% drank water directly from the tap, (57.3% said their friends did the same) 14.1% filtered their tap water, 4.2% boiled water before use, and 32.4% drank bottled water.

85.1% did not know if there is lead in their pipes. (We don’t know if there’s lead in the pipes, either.)  Almost all used water for cooking, cleaning and bathing, with most also drinking it but less than half using it for gardening — a result that may indicate a lack of gardening or rain-fed gardens.

New campaign in Flint

The age-old question is: if there is a way to clean your water in the woods, but nobody knows that it is there, does it exist? This seems to be a very fitting question that both the water utilities and residents of Flint, Michigan are struggling with. Since the Flint water crisis of 2014 occurred media coverage of the issue has substantially fallen. Sadly, the danger of drinking tap water hasn’t, but it is on its way. What has changed is that the city has been great in offering bottled water, water filters, information on how to use them, change them, and even how to test your own water. Thing is, many residents of Flint haven’t been able to use these resources information.

This failure to connect shows that the water utilities of the world must establish a sustainable link between their citizens and themselves. To address this we are glad to announce that the City Water Project will be starting a campaign in Flint. We are excited to work together with people from the ‘vehicle city’ known for its resilience. To find out more visit our website and if you are a resident of Flint please help us by filling out our survey here.

Engaging with the local government in Galway

When we go to a new city with the City Water Project, one of the first groups we try to make contact with is the local government: mainly to let them know that we will be working in their city, and also to ask for information and contacts with local interested groups. In our experience, the local government is not usually engaged at this stage; but the Galway City Council was very helpful and interested from the offset.

We asked for and were given an overview of the situation in Galway, at least as far as the city council was concerned. Galway City Council explained who was in charge of providing water (Irish Water), where it came from (mainly Lough Corrib), and how it was treated. They also gave us a contact with Irish Water.

So, we have no complaints about the local government in Galway. They seemed eager to help us and were clearly well aware that water quality was an issue in their city. However, in the next blog post, we’ll talk about trying to get into contact with Irish Water, and beginning to understand what the main issues with water quality in Galway are. Stay tuned!

Remember, if you live in Galway, please fill out our survey: and if you have any questions or comments, please email us.

The City Water Project goes to Galway

By Ailish Lalor

For the months of April and May this year, the City Water Project is running a campaign in Galway. Galway is located on the west coast of Ireland and is the fourth most populated city in Ireland, containing many tourist attractions such as the Burren. However, it has also become famous, at least within Ireland, for its water problems.

In 2007, a cryptosporidium outbreak in Lough Corrib caused the public water supply in Galway city to become contaminated. Residents were told to boil water and many elected to purchase bottled water. The Irish Government, originally through Galway County Council and from 2014 onwards, Irish Water, attempted to improve the situation through investment and repairs of the system. Our mission is to see whether the citizens of Galway feel that enough has been done: in other words, do they feel they can trust the water coming through their taps?

In following blog posts we will be detailing our engagement with the local government, and with other interested groups. For now, if you have any questions, do email us: and if you’re a resident of Galway, please fill out our survey about your perception of water quality and usage!

Den Haag Debrief 5: An international, multicultural city

By Paula Echeverría Suárez

The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) is the third largest city of the Netherlands. It is located along the North Sea about 40 minutes south of Amsterdam. It is the seat of the Dutch government and the majority of foreign embassies and international organizations in the country. Out of a population of 520,000 (as of April 1, 2016), fifty percent have Dutch ancestry while the other half have one or two “foreign born” parents. The Hague is an international city with many faces and different cultures.

The Hague’s reputation as an international city began in the middle of the 19th century when it became the Royal Residence of the House Oranje-Nassau. As a government town and seat of the monarchy, the city attracted many embassies and welcomed visitors from near and far, overcrowding the town and forcing development to continue outside the original city center. By the 20th century, The Hague was internationally known as a city of peace and justice, helding the First Peace Conference in the world.

The Hague is built on sand dunes in the northwest and peat in its southeast (the border roughly runs parallel to Laan van Meerdervoort). Wealthier neighbourhoods like Statenkwartier, Belgisch Park, Marlot, Benoordenhout and Archipelbuurt are generally located “in the sand” closer to the sea, and those Hagenaars speak bekakt Haags (“posh”). In the poorer neighborhoods like Transvaal, Moerwijk, and Schilderswijk, the Hagenezen speak plat Haags (“vulgar”). In the 1970s and 1980s, mostly white middle-class families moved to neighbouring towns like Voorburg, Leidschendam, Rijswijk and, most of all, Zoetermeer. This led to the traditional pattern of an impoverished inner city and more prosperous suburbs.

That pattern has partially reversed, as The Hague today has a mix of 100 ethnicities, languages and cultures living side by side. Most inhabitants at least speak two languages fluently (15% of the population speaks Turkish or Arabic as a native language). There are many yearly events celebrating the different heritages of The Hague’s inhabitants. For instance, the “Welcome to The Hague” programme for expats; the Tong Tong Fair, a celebration of the Indonesian-Dutch heritage, and The Embassy Festival for the diplomats that live in the city.

For the City Water Project, the idea of starting our initiative in a city so culturally diverse seemed interesting and exciting. However, we did not realize that our connections should not only focus on The Hague as a single community, but The Hague as a variety of small communities, each with their own language and culture. You can read more about our efforts to connection to them here.



Den Haag Debrief 4: Talking with Dunea

By David Zetland

The CWP wants to improve communication between water utilities and customers to “improve people’s access to clean drinking water by promoting consumption where water is already clean and improving quality where it is not.”

We began in Den Haag (The Hague) because that’s where LUC is located, and we wanted to see how easy (or hard) it was to involve locals in our efforts, talk to the utility (Dunea), etc.

In this post, I want to record how our “conversations” with Dunea went.

They did not start out well, as Dieneke’s attempts to chat with Dunea went from initially hopeful to “please use our existing outreach materials to understand how Dunea provides clean water.” Although we must agree that Dunea probably runs one of the best water treatment operations in the world (using sand dunes to filter river water, limited or no chemical treatment — e.g., no chlorine — and a 6 percent leakage rate in their system [pdf]), we were less concerned about water quality than the perception of water quality in the community. According to data from the city [Dutch], only half of Den Haag’s population is “autochtoon” (defined here as “both parents born in the NL,” which could be interpreted as “Dutch in culture” rather than as “Dutch in appearance” — but often isn’t). Of the remaining 250.000 people, only 20 percent fall into the “diplomat/expat” category that plays a big role in Den Haag’s life as an international city of justice and political capital of the Netherlands.* The question of interest, in other words, is how 200.000 people from Surinam, Turkey, Morocco, Eastern Europe, etc. perceive water quality in Den Haag.

After a few meetings and phone calls, I was able to chat with one of Dunea’s staff (DS) about the CWP, and he was supportive of helping us spread the word, but I didn’t get any response to my request that we have a meeting until CWP announced it was collecting survey data from anyone and everyone who would reply, in 5 languages (Dutch, English, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish).

Within 24 hours of sending out that email, I got an invitation to have a meeting with Dunea’s communications expert (CE), so she joined DS for us to talk about water quality.**

A good part of our conversation was about the CWP, and what we were trying to do. The CE was worried that even mentioning “water quality” could make customers nervous about trusting their drinking water, but she was fascinated by our attempt to connect with the 40 percent of their customers who may not have grown up with Dutch as a mother tongue. (Dunea’s website is only in Dutch.)

I’d love to say more about how we were brought into their strategic meetings to help us understand how Dunea communicates about water quality (I wanted them to publicize their  tests of quality in random customers’ homes, for example), and for us to help them do a better job communicating with their broad customer base, but the CE did not return any of my follow up emails.

Bottom Line: Even the best run utilities have a hard time sitting on the other side of the table, to think of better ways to communicate with their customers.


* Amsterdam is the seat of the royal family (for historic reasons), but the government is based in Den Haag.
** I’m leaving names out of this post, as they are less relevant than the ideas. Let me also repeat the obvious, that this post collects my thoughts and facts on these communications, but I may be wrong or misguided in places.




Den Haag Debrief 3: Survey results

By Ailish Lalor

When we began our project in The Hague, we offered our survey in five different languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, Turkish and  Arabic) in order to appeal to the city’s multicultural population. We received 70 responses on our English survey, 7 on the Dutch, and 1 in Arabic. The other two languages did not receive any responses. We were quite disappointed with this, because 15% of the population of The Hague speak Turkish or Arabic as a native language. In this blog post we’ll be examining only the Dutch and English versions for the purposes of accuracy.

The first part of the survey dealt with our respondents’ background. In the English survey, the majority of respondents were between 18-24 years of age, whereas with the Dutch survey, there was an equal spread of ages. The Dutch respondents had mostly lived in The Hague for longer than seven years, whereas the majority of English speaking respondents had recently moved there. The majority of English speaking respondents earned less than €1000 per month, but the Dutch speakers eared between €3000 and €5000 per month. Before coming to The Hague, the English respondents had lived all over the world, but the Dutch speakers had lived exclusively in the Netherlands. This could be explained by the fact that one of our main sources of respondents was the student community of LUC The Hague, a highly international environment. This was probably the source of most of the English responses, while the Dutch responses probably came from outside the university.

Next, we asked our respondents about their usage of tap water. The Dutch respondents all said that they drank tap water in the city they had lived in before The Hague and in The Hague itself. They used it for drinking, cleaning and cooking, with a minority also using it for gardening and other outdoors activities. The majority of English-speaking  respondents had drunk the water of the city they lived in before The Hague, and an even higher proportion drank the tap water from The Hague (only one respondent did not). This respondent claimed that tap water in general was unhealthy and unclean.  The English respondents used tap water for the same purposes as the Dutch respondents did, with a similarly small number using it for outside activities.

Finally, we asked our respondents how they would like to alter people’s relationship with water. When asked how awareness should be raised about the high water quality in The Hague, most responded by saying that extra information, advertisements, and education on the disadvantages of bottled water would be helpful to those who persisted in drinking bottled water. They said, in general, they would be happy to use recycled waste water for anything other than consumption – agricultural irrigation, outdoor and gardening uses, industry, and household uses excluding drinking. The majority of them were willing to pay an extra tax on water of €200 per year, with some students raising concerns about whether they personally would be able to pay such a tax.

“I think it is fair to tax for drinking water. I just think the taxes for students is much too high (over 230 euro for half a year!). This really hurts students’ finances. There are water tax exemptions but then sometimes you just dont meet the requirements.”

All respondents agreed that polluters of water should have to pay this tax, with the Dutch respondents leaning more towards everyone paying it as well.

Our survey showed us that the majority of respondents believed that the tap water in The Hague was of a high quality and had no problem drinking it. There was a small number of respondents who had lived elsewhere in the world, who had distrusted the water when they first arrived.

“I would say it is also the matter of adaptability. First month in Hague I also didn’t drink it, even though I knew it is safe, my body had to adapt it for it. This is normal part of settling down in new country […] they just have to adapt.”

The majority of respondents believed that if the water authority released more information about the water, this minor problem would be solved. The majority of respondents seemed to trust Dunea and the quality of the water it provided; more here [link Lucas’s post]. It also seems that in light of our failure to bring those whose first languages are not English or Dutch into the water quality conversation, it would be a good idea for Dunea to release its information in a multitude of languages, rather than only Dutch, as is the current state of affairs.