Community Collaboration Raises Tap Water Awareness through Water Magic!
When Katie Loth, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (DFMCH), meets with patients at M Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic for nutrition counselling sessions, she often hears how her patients avoid drinking tap water.
"I came to realize that many folks were avoiding the consumption of tap water because they felt it was not safe for them to drink," she says. "As a result, they were spending their limited food budget on bottled water and rationing consumption of water because of the cost."
To better understand how widespread the negative perception of the safety of tap water is in Minneapolis, Dr. Loth reached out to the Minneapolis Health Department (MDH) and connected with a public health specialist, Kristen Klingler, who works directly on this issue.
Ms. Klingler introduced Dr. Loth to the ReThink Your Drink Leadership Team at MDH and to Colin Kloecker at Raft (formerly the Water Bar and Public Studio). It turned out the ReThink Your Drink leadership team was already working on several projects related to reducing sugary beverage consumption in the city. Dr. Loth and the team began to meet regularly, and from these meetings the Minneapolis Water Magic! Project was born.
The Water Magic! Project is a collaboration between MDH, the University of Minnesota DFMCH, Raft, and community partners. Since 2015, the Water Magic! project has raised awareness at over 40 community events and interacted with over 1,000 people to discuss the negative health effects of sugary beverages.
When encouraging water as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks, Water Magic! also heard that many people are wary of tap water, which leads them to purchase bottled water or avoid drinking water altogether.
Some of the tap water perceptions Water Magic! found through community interaction included:
• Tap water is unattractive
• Tap water is of lesser quality than bottled water
• Tap water is inconvenient compared to bottled water
• Tap water infrastructure is untrustworthy
As a result of these perceptions, Water Magic! has worked with communities to create solutions to increase tap water consumption through various means. The project's goal is that this work will directly benefit communities throughout Minneapolis by facilitating changes necessary for individuals to feel confident in the safety of the water in their home, school and work environments. The ReThink Your Drink leadership team comprises adult and youth representatives from multiple communities around Minneapolis. By allowing the leadership team to lead the work, they are engaging directly with communities to create opportunities for everyone to have access to healthful food and drink.
Dr. Loth says: "In the long term, I hope that this work will lead to meaningful policy, environmental and structural changes to allow all families access to safe and affordable water."