Don Draper’s Lesson on the Value of American Water

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – May 18, 2012 – Comment

If you’ve been watching this season of Mad Men, you may have caught a glimpse of Don Draper, the show’s main character, in a recent episode drinking a glass of tap water that was, astonishingly, brown. Don gulps it down without hesitation, which may come as a shock to today’s viewer. Drinking murky water from rusty pipes? He must be crazy.

In terms of drinking water quality, we are a lucky country. The water in most of America usually runs clear.

Here’s a riddle: What are three things most of the world can’t do?

According to Water.org, the answer, unfortunately, is that most of the world cannot take a hot shower, drink a clean glass of water or flush away last night’s dinner.

But Mad Men is set in the 1960s…surely water quality has improved in the last 50 years!

Let’s examine some numbers:

Sub-Saharan Africa is the slowest of the world’s regions to improve sanitation; only 31 percent of residents had access to improved sanitation in 2006.

The UN estimates that the amount of wastewater produced annually is about six times more than the amount of water that exists in every river in the world.

In Asia, 1.8 billion people live without improved water sanitation.

But this isn’t a problem solely for underdeveloped countries:

In France, tests of drinking water concluded that three million people were drinking water that did not meet the World Health Organization’s standards for clean water. And what is most shocking of all is that today 884 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water – that’s awfully close to one billion.

And although things are certainly better here in the U.S., where drinking water and wastewater are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies, infrastructure challenges cause quality and reliability issues. Increased main breaks and unchecked leaks in water and wastewater systems are wreaking havoc in many communities, and – according to several water industry reports, including the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Failure to Act – this is anticipated to worsen if additional investments are not made into the nation’s systems.

As one of North America’s largest publicly traded water service providers, American Water is responsible for the quality of the water that is delivered to our customers’ homes, and we take that responsibility seriously. We invest $800 million to $1 billion annually into system improvements to ensure that our customers continue to receive the high-quality, reliable water services they have come to expect. We work hard to attest that the water we provide customers meets federal and state safety standards, and our nationally renowned researchers in fact help the EPA develop its standards and regulations. When it comes to complying with strict federal regulations for delivering clean, quality drinking water, we’ve consistently scored among the highest of all water companies.

We are so fortunate to have clean water. Perhaps in a future episode of Mad Men, when the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce office reaches the mid 1970s and the passage by Congress of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we will see Don taking his aspirin with a clearer glass of water. For almost one billion people worldwide, that will not happen today.