How Perceptions of Trust, Risk, Tap Water Quality, and Salience Characterize Drinking Water Choices
Provision of safe drinking water by water utilities is challenged by disturbances to water quality that have become increasingly frequent due to global changes and anthropogenic impacts. Many water utilities are turning to adaptable and flexible strategies to allow for resilient management of drinking water supplies. The success of resilience-based management depends on, and is enabled by, positive relationships with the public. To understand how relationships between managers and communities spill over to in-home drinking water behavior, we examined the role of trust, risk perceptions, salience of drinking water, and water quality evaluations in the choice of in-home drinking water sources for a population in Roanoke Virginia. Using survey data, our study characterized patterns of in-home drinking water behavior and explored related perceptions to determine if residents’ perceptions of their water and the municipal water utility could be intuited from this behavior. We characterized drinking water behavior using a hierarchical cluster analysis and highlighted the importance of studying a range of drinking water patterns. Through analyses of variance, we found that people who drink more tap water have higher trust in their water managers, evaluate water quality more favorably, have lower risk perceptions, and pay less attention to changes in their tap water. Utility managers may gauge information about aspects of their relationships with communities by examining drinking water behavior, which can be used to inform their future interactions with the public, with the goal of increasing resilience and adaptability to external water supply threats.