Dividend stocks are a great a way to earn fixed payments at regular intervals every quarter.

In this turbulent market, the key is picking safe stocks that can weather the unexpected.

American Water Works (AWK - Get Report) and NextEra Energy (NEE - Get Report)  are steady income drivers, offering smart dividends and hefty returns.

They are also long-term in outlook, with a sustainable approach to maintaining profitability.

Water infrastructure major American Water Works with a 25%-plus year-to-date return has surpassed peers such as American States Water (down more than 5.3%) and Aqua America (up about 3%).

With 6,700 employees, American Water Works' regulated state operations in 16 U.S. states and market-based business exposure make it a strong infrastructure play.

The company's market capitalization is $13.3 billion, and it is expected to post average annual earnings growth of 7.6% over the next five years.

In addition, the stock, with a beta of 0.17, is among the least volatile in the sector.

American Water Works has also had positive free cash flow for the past two years.

Operating margins are more than 30%, helping the company increase dividends for seven straight years. The low payout ratio of 53% indicates that American Water Works can keep going.

Since 2008, dividends have risen 20 cents a share to $1.33 a share last year, representing six-fold growth.

Given the weakness in the U.S. water system infrastructure, American Water Works is a long-term growth and income winner.

Meanwhile, NextEra Energy, which is valued at more than $57 billion, boasts total revenue of about $17.5 billion, more than 14,000 employees in 27 states and Canada, and 45,000 megawatts of generating capacity, including the portion in NextEra Energy Partners.

NextEra Energy's Florida Power & Light, serving more than 4.8 million customer accounts in that state, and NextEra Energy Resources, the world's largest producer of renewable energy from the wind and sun, help provide stable income generation.

NextEra Energy is projected to post average annual earnings growth of 7.18% for the next five years, better than its peers such as Dominion Resources (6%), PPL (5%) and Southern (4%).

The company will also continue its six-year streak of increasing dividends, given that its payout ratio of 56.4% is pretty low. Its yield is 2.78%.

NextEra Energy has generated consistent free cash flow of $11.2 billion in the past decade, propelled by the rate-regulated nature of its business.

With a beta of 0.28 NextEra Energy is among the safest investments amid market volatility.

Trading at an enterprise value-earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization ratio of 5.4 times, NextEra Energy is a bargain. Look for returns of 10% to 11% over the next year, along with the unfettered dividend flow.

---

A blistering financial storm is about to hit our shores. When it hits, weak companies and their investors will be washed away. You need to put yourself on solid ground. And that doesn't just mean changing your investment allocations or loading up on cash. I'll show you how to protect yourself and prosper when you click here.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.