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Sooner or later we all need friends, and that is as true for utilities as it is for individuals. The successful utility views itself as a member of the community it serves and exhibits all the characteristics of a good neighbor and community member. Water utility managers make sure their water reservoirs are full, whether they are surface reservoirs, groundwater basins or above ground water tanks, in order to ensure customer demands can be satisfied. An equally important reservoir utility managers should fill is the “good will” reservoir.

Utilities entered the “Replacement Era” at a time when resources are scarce, regulatory mandates are high, and community members are skeptical of promises and explanations from government. Yet pipelines still need to be built or repaired, pump stations sited, water supplies secured and reservoirs constructed. All of these activities are usually conducted in an atmosphere of disinterest at best or one of distrust at worst. Competing public policy problems such as traffic may be more tangible to a community than water issues, primarily because utilities have always done their jobs so well – turn on the tap, and you have water!

Successfully implementing public works projects today requires a strong support base that reflects the range of interests within a community. A support base can make the difference between a project plan that sits on the shelf and a project that gets put in the ground. And, just as during a drought is not time to start thinking about filling water reservoirs, asking for a rate increase or approval of a major public project is not time to start developing good relationships with the community. Filling the good will reservoir takes time and must be an ongoing commitment.

Through case study examples, this paper describes real-life examples of how utilities have used public outreach and involvement to build trust in their communities, easing the way for programs to increase rates, site controversial facilities and resolve water quality issues.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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