When you have 24 hours to notify your customers, what can you do?

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, American Water Providers have 24 hours to notify customers anytime there is a risk of harm to human health because of water contamination. While no professional water provider ever wants to face a contamination event, research from the University of California, Irvine suggests that in a given year, between 7% and 8% of community water utilities report at least one health-based violation of federal standards. It is important for all utilities to be prepared.

How do contamination events happen?

In 2015, Flint, Michigan, made headlines when a change in its water supply resulted in exposure of thousands of residents to high levels of lead and other contaminants. In 2019, a faulty flow switch led to an overfeed of fluoride into the water system in Sandy City, Utah.

Whether contamination is caused by human error, computer malfunction, or unforeseen circumstances, no water provider plans to be part of a major contamination event. That is why it is so important for all utilities to be prepared.

In a given year, between 7% and 8% of community water utilities report at least one health-based violation of federal standards.

What should water providers tell customers when these events occur?

The EPA sets strict requirements on notifications for contamination events. All notifications should at minimum contain the following 10 elements:

  • A description of the contamination concern

  • Details about when the situation occurred

  • Any potential adverse health effects from drinking the water

  • What populations may be particularly vulnerable if exposed to the contaminant

  • Whether or not alternate water supplies should be used

  • Actions consumers should take

  • What is being done to correct the situation

  • When the situation is expected to be resolved

  • Who residents can contact for additional information

  • A statement encouraging notice recipients to share the information with others who may be impacted

Sample Communication Outline:

As soon as a detected

Create a public notice that contains all required information. Then send a broadcast to impacted areas with a link to your public notice. To reach the highest number of residents as quickly as possible, we recommend prioritizing emails, texts, and phone calls.

As long as contamination risk remains

Add updates to your public notice. Important updates should include if recommendations for water use change, if new timelines emerge, or if additional discoveries about the contamination event are made.

After the contamination event

Alert your customers as soon as their water is safe to drink. If special protocols are needed for customers to flush their lines, this should be included in this communication. It may take time to restore confidence and trust with your customers but the best way to do this is through continued proactive communication.


Send your customers a postcard to let them know what steps are being taken to ensure that a contamination event like this will not happen again. If you have been able to do additional testing to ensure that water quality standards are being met, be sure to share those results here.

Published On: April 6th, 2021 / Categories: Uncategorized / Tags: /

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