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Australia will not meet Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 6.1, to ‘achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all’ by 2030, unless water service provision is improved to hundreds of small (< 10,000 inhabitants) rural and remote (SRR) communities. Decisions around improvements in service provision are often informed by conventional benefit-cost analyses that focus on direct users but typically ignore broader societal benefits. We estimate the societal benefits of a program to upgrade drinking water services to ensure ‘good quality’ water supply for 260,000 people living in 395 SRR communities that in 2018-19 were found to be exposed to domestic water that did not meet all Australian Dirking Water Guidelines for health-based and aesthetics parameters. We use a stated preference survey of 3,532 participants representative of the Australian population to estimate households’ willingness-to-pay (WTP) for the proposed program. Mean WTP for the program for the entire affected population is between A$781 and A$847 per household per year over 10 years. Aggregation across the Australian population indicates societal benefits are between A$24 and A$52 billion. By comparison, we estimated the capital costs to provide good quality water in the affected SRR communities at A$0.42 billion. From a policy perspective, we propose that decision-makers responsible for funding drinking water services take into account strong public support and societal benefits of a program to deliver safe drinking water for all.