Grant will assess public perception of tap water in Des Moines

Grant will assess public perception of tap water in Des Moines

A University of Iowa research team has received a grant to study public confidence in tap water.

Samantha Zuhlke, an assistant professor in the School of Planning and Public Affairs, and David Cwiertny, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, will partner with Des Moines city services to assess vulnerable populations’ perceptions of tap water in Des Moines.  

The team will interview Des Moines community members and analyze patterns in commercial water consumption to find ways to rebuild consumer confidence in tap water, particularly among historically marginalized populations that are most likely to drink bottled water despite it costing more than tap water and being more environmentally destructive. The six-month study will address the inequitable consumption of bottled water both in Iowa and across the United States.

Zuhlke and Cwiertny were granted a Civic Innovation Challenge award, making theirs one of 56 teams across the country to receive a $50,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“American government is facing a crisis of legitimacy, which affects how people interact with basic services like drinking water,” Zuhlke says. “We are thrilled to partner with the Des Moines Water Works and the City of Des Moines Public Works Department to address this urgent public problem. In the collaborative spirit of the NSF Civic Innovation Challenge, we will work together to conduct research that ultimately identifies practical ways to rebuild trust in drinking water and other basic services.”

Zuhlke, a research fellow in the Environmental Policy Research Program at the Public Policy Center, is the co-author of the recently published The Profits of Distrust: Citizen-Consumers, Drinking Water, and the Crisis of Confidence in American Government.

Cwiertny is the William D. Ashton Professor of Civil Engineering in the College of Engineering, director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, and director of the Environmental Policy Research Program in the Public Policy Center.