Environmental Challenges

Improving EPA Water Quality Reports in Baltimore

March 22, 2024

Every year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that all public water system managers across the country create a report detailing drinking water quality for consumers. These reports, called Consumer Confidence Reports, can often be full of technical jargon, making it difficult for users to understand.  

With funding from the Bloomberg American Health Initiative, Dr. Mary Fox set out to examine and improve these reports for Baltimore. Through her research Dr. Fox enlisted the help of Baltimore residents to better understand issues they were facing and how they believed the Consumer Confidence Reports could be improved.  

Over the course of her study, Dr. Fox found that none of the 60 reports pulled from a national sample scored above the minimum goal for reading ease. Given that water is such a key resource, it is interesting that constituents are being left in the dark about its quality with no real means of gaining insight.  

In Baltimore specifically, the majority of study recipients reported that the report was “technical and difficult to read.” Many added that they hoped for more information on infrastructure improvements, costs, and localized water data in future iterations of the report. 

Building on Dr. Fox’s work, Vidisha Agarwalla from the Maryland Institute College of Art, created several report designs incorporating the residents’ feedback, including a summary statement, a tips and tricks factsheet on common concerns, a mock-up of an interactive map for neighborhood-level water quality, and a water treatment process infographic.  

Dr. Fox shared Baltimore residents’ feedback and her preliminary findings with the EPA team working to revise the rule.  

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