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The Challenges of Communicating about Tap Water Quality: Lessons from the Bay Area and Beyond

Greg Pierce
Fri May 17th 2024, 12:00 - 1:15pm
Event Sponsor
Bill Lane Center for the American West
Haas Center for Public Service
Shriram Center for Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering, Room 104
443 Via Ortega, Stanford, CA 94305

Tap water distrust has grown as a concern in the U.S. due to the Flint crisis and associated scandal, as well as growing evidence regarding the health, economic welfare, and broader well-being impacts of distrust. This talk focuses on the implementation and implications of a novel Tap Water Testing program which operated with 9 local community partners from 2019 to 2022 in the San Francisco Bay Area, to address tap water concerns among residents. The final Bay Area testing effort included 555 samples and 34,296 tests that looked at 142 distinct constituents of interest.

Results illustrate the challenge of communicating drinking water quality risk in an accurate and compelling way, given that results can and are interpreted (and contested) differently by involved stakeholders. Given the unprecedented scale and community-driven nature of the program, we also identified several overarching lessons learned for future testing programs, and articulated the role of 7 key stakeholder groups in enhancing tap water trust more broadly.

Results from this intervention will be situated in the context of the author and Human Right to Water Lab team’s published research which explores a series of related questions regarding tap water quality and trust, based on projects in partnership with community-based organizations, water systems, regulators and advocates in multiple regions of California, Colorado, New York, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas.


Headshot of Greg Pierce smiling at the camera wearing a light blue shirt with a thin dark blue square pattern.

Greg Pierce (he/him) is the director of the UCLA Water Resources Group within the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability the director of the Human Right to Water Solutions Lab, and the research and co-executive director of the Luskin Center for Innovation. He also serves as a faculty member in the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.

His primary focus is on water insecurity, but he also examines solutions to cross-cutting green infrastructure, climate resilience and transport insecurities. He carries out his research with a variety of community, agency, non-profit and academic partners. He has secured 40+ extramural research funding awards as a principal investigator, and is the author of 50+ peer-reviewed articles.