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To support the goals of the Division, the Committee is launching a blog on the TAWWA.org website to highlight existing utilities and programs across the state. This blog will provide valuable information on existing programs and highlight how more information on the programs can be obtained, thus creating an online database of water education resources.

 

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Value of Water - Texas

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Tuesday, May 10, 2016

  

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

All Things H2O                                     May 2016 Issue 

 

                                     

 

When you hear the phrase Value of Water, what comes to mind?  Perhaps the phrase conjures images of water conservation during times of drought or of full swimming pools during the hottest of Texas summers.  Perhaps the phrase conjures images of water rate hikes to provide water services to a growing population.  Perhaps the phrase conjures images of operators who take pride in their contribution to public health and the environment.  There is no right or wrong answer.  Each person you ask will give you a different answer. 

 

To get the public to understand the value that water brings to their quality of life, we in the water industry must outreach and communicate.   Excluding the Public Information Officer (PIO), I believe these two terms brings shudders to most of us working in the water industry.  It wasn’t so long ago when we were told we were doing our jobs correctly if we weren’t in the press or in a headline.  I think we all know those days are well over. 

 

Just as we do with the technical side of our industry, we can network and learn from each other on how to outreach and communicate.  That is the purpose of the Value of Water – Texas; to create an environment of learning and exchange of information from an outreach and communication perspective.  While this dialogue is encouraged throughout the year, TAWWA and WEAT cultivates this opportunity at Texas Water annually during the Value of Water – Texas session. 

 

Our storytellers for this year’s Texas of Water session included an executive director of a non-profit organization, director and assistant director of utilities for a city, a self-proclaimed water nerd and education coordinator for a utility, and role playing education staff representing citizens in their community.  The common theme that joined all these speakers is that projects/programs cannot be successful without public engagement and projects/programs cannot be implemented without public support. 

 

 

 

Dr. Eileen O’Neill, WEF Executive Director, led the discussion with the topic Building of a Message.  “If you want to move fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, move together,” Dr. O’Neill emphasized.  WEF and AWWA are charter members of the Value of Water Coalition; a group of non-profit, private and public entities working together to build national messaging to achieve water awareness and support from the public for our infrastructure needs.   TAWWA, WEAT and all of our utilities can use and build upon the messaging provided by the Coalition to extend and amplify our individual value of water message. Free toolkit materials can be downloaded from the Value of Water Coalition site (thevalueofwater.org) that answers the question “What’s the Value of Water” with distinct, relatable images.   Infrastructure week is May 16-23, 2016 and the Value of Water Coalition will be pushing out messages during this week.  We can use, retweet, or share these messages within our own community to piggyback on national coverage.

 

 

 

What happens when your community is running out of water and your utility is heading for bankruptcy?  These are tough questions that were answered by Bill Riley, Director of Water Utilities for San Angelo and Allison Strubbe, Assistant Director of Water Utilities for San Angelo.  With San Angelo nestled right between 3 reservoirs, including the O.H. Ivie Reservoir where most of the water supply is from, how can San Angelo be running out of water?   Bill and Allison explained that O.H. Ivie Reservoir was built by the Colorado River Municipal Water District (CRMWD) in the early 1990’s and the only time is was full was when it first went online.  It has been in a state of decline almost continuously since that time, and in fact, CRMWD provided a date of January 2017 when the Ivie would be completely dry.  San Angelo also has its own water rights in Lakes O.C. Fisher, Twin Buttes, and Nasworthy.  However, both Fisher and Twin Buttes have been virtually empty for most of the last 20 years, making them of very little supply value.  An outreach program for conservation decreased water consumption from 147 gpd per capita in 2011 to 95 gpd per capita today.  While seemingly successful, Bill and Allison stated decreased water usage resulted in decrease revenue to the utility.  With already incurred debt and new water projects needed to be financed to create sustainable water supplies for the community, a substantial rate increase to meet the existing and proposed financial needs of the utility was needed.   Public meetings to get input as well as educate the community on the utility’s needs were held.  At first there was considerable push-back; however, the utility continued to hold meetings and be as transparent as possible which resulted in the Council unanimously passing a 5 year plan to increase rates each year resulting in an ultimate increase of approximately 60%. The community, though no one wants to pay more money, embraced the increase as important and necessary for the community.

 

 

 

San Antonio Water System (SAWS) is in the process of constructing a desalination facility and when finished, will be the largest inland desalination facility in the country.  While words such as MGD, DESALINATION and AQUIFER STORAGE AND RECOVERY literally flow right off many of our tongues, we forget that most in our communities have no idea what we are talking about—this is simply a foreign language to many of them.   Greg Wukasch, Education Director for SAWS and self-defined water nerd stated, “In our “water nerdness” we sometimes mistakenly believe that everyone in the world is as excited about water and our water projects as we are.   It does not mean that we can’t pique their interest. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get their buy-in. It just means that we need to first embrace where most people are starting from and then create a process which will help us meet them where they are.” When you need to translate the concepts of a Brackish Desalination facility to a group of suburban stay at home moms, you look to your storytellers.   Who is telling the story within your organization?  For SAWS, the Engineering Department called a group from Education, Creative Services, Public Relations, Facility Maintenance, Facility Management and of course Engineering to tell the story. SAWS knew that upon the opening of this facility, everyone from city council members to 5th grade students would come to visit the facility and they wanted to use the ACTUAL physical space to tell the history, present and future of San Antonio’s water.  The team themed the facility around the water cycle and all features adhered to this theme; from the fixtures to the flooring, to the lines and curvatures used in creating the space, to the color and movement into and through the space. 

  

 

Through a role-playing exercise, Kristy Woodard, Misty Klein, Joyce Warren and Ron Garcia from Frisco’s education department, introduced all of us to the residents of Frisco, Texas.   From the out-of-towner who just moved in from a “water-rich” area and doesn’t understand the hub-bub about Texas’ water concerns to the stay at home mom who is overwhelmed with taking care of a new baby and isn’t aware of what is happening in the community.  From the techie who wants information fast, electronic and interactive, to the senior citizen who is intimidated by electronics and prefers newspapers and landlines.  Frisco’s water education programs rely on active residential participation with programs that use scientific data supplied by the city. However, not all communication styles are created equal for certain sectors of the community. City demographics respond to various communication styles differently. The importance of knowing and understanding your audience base when communicating is essential for gaining acceptance and support for any project or program. 

 

If after reading all this, you are thinking WOW!  I can’t believe I missed all this great information; don’t fret – the session was videotaped.  You’ll be able to view the program in its entirety in the not too distant future.  Until then, I ask you, what is your story?  I challenge you to write it down and submit your story to the Value of Water session at the call for abstracts for Texas Water 2017.  

 

About the author: 

 

  

 

Sharon Miller is a creative spirit stuck in an engineer’s body. She is the Public Communication and Outreach Chair for WEAT, Publications Subcommittee Chair for WEF, and newly appointed WEAT Treasurer. During working hours, Sharon can be found at Perkins Engineering Consultants, Inc (Arlington, TX) as a Project Manager for wastewater projects and Office Manager of the Richardson, TX office location.   

Tags:  #valueofwatertexas  frisco  san angelo  saws  value of water coalition  water education 

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