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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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Why should a utility build a water museum?

Posted By Karen E. Menard, Tuesday, August 14, 2018

 

 

Education Division – Consumer Outreach Committee Blog

 

All Things H2O                                  August 2018 Issue

 

 

 

 

Why should a utility build a water museum?

 

 

A Note from the Editor It all started on my lunch break…

 

 

 

There I was. Innocently thumbing through one of my favorite magazines during my lunch break when BAM! I mean, HELLO? I like to think that I’m plugged into water education in Texas. But, I had never heard a peep about the Laredo Water Museum! And it was about to celebrate its first year of operation!!

 

Hi! I’m your All Things H2O blog leader, Karen Menard. Since its inception back in 2014, we’ve had some awesome contributors to our blog. In fact, our very first blog article highlighted the City of Houston’s WaterWorks Education Center. Well, after reading the June issue of Texas Highways magazine and, specifically, the article about the new Water Museum in Laredo, I felt it was time to shake things up a bit.

 

First, I wanted to know how the designer sits down with very technical people (myself included) and then distills all the tech jargon into something that children and families can easily understand, including gpcd!! That’s gallons per capita per day – or – how much water a person uses in a day. Second, I wanted to learn more about this amazing project and how other utilities across Texas can tap into it (pun intended)!

 

Just for you this month, we have a little Q&A with the designer of both the Water Museum and Water Education Center, Alan Krathaus of CORE Design Studio (Houston, TX). Enjoy!  ~Karen

 

 

1. What is it like to work with a Utility on projects like the Laredo Water Museum?

 

The management of utilities is usually composed of engineers and administrators. Their primary concern is keeping the water flowing to the industry and homes, making sure the plants are up and running, pipes are being fixed, keeping the public happy with their concerns, anticipating and acting on further utility expansion, but most importantly providing the cleanest drinking water to their district. 

 

 

Depending on the size of the utility, they might already have an educational and/or outreach program in place to communicate with customers and local school districts on water saving tips, actions to prevent water and infrastructure contamination and promote stewardship. Their promotional channels typically include water bill inserts, social media and email campaigns, going to festivals or public events, maybe even a stuffed water and wastewater department mascots like “Deputy Drip”, “the Grease Goblin,” “Captain Wetiquette” and “Freshwater Freddie the Frog” All of these options can be effective ways to reach out to constituents. However, having a utility commit to a permanent museum or educational facility, even at a small scale, can have a dramatic impact on the people who visit.

 

 

Exhibits, space and physical experiences with tailored content can create a more didactic, immersive and engaging environment leaving longer lasting learned responses or memories that can translate directly to behavioral changes on individuals and households. Basically, people will engage and remember what they learn and experience, and in doing so they will actively conserve water, be water stewards and are more likely to spread this awareness to others in their family and beyond.

 

 

 

Reaching out to a younger population is the best means of making real change and promoting a better understanding of water conservation and stewardship.

 

 

 

“Why does our water bill keep increasing?” Part of what a water museum can dispel is the ease of how we get our drinking water. After learning about the process, most people are surprised at the vast amount energy, resources, people, infrastructure and processes it takes to deliver something the public takes for granted. Visitors also get a better understanding that running a water department depends on a large team of people with broad backgrounds. Engineers, field contractors, technicians, scientists, and boots on the ground in neighborhoods repairing and replacing lines and collecting data.

 

 

 

2. How do you communicate the Utility’s vision?

 

Communicating the vision of the city is accomplished through site visits, reading through all their educational materials, understanding their systems, how they communicate to customers, and how they want to be represented to the community and demystify what the water department is. Each city might have a different feature or process that is specific to their cities water story. In the case of Laredo, the primary narrative is about the Rio Grande.

 

 

 

As their main source of water, it is threatened not only by pollutants and contaminants on it’s long journey from the mountains in Colorado, but by literally drying up due to overuse, increased population and environmental/ecological changes. Houston’s story includes some of it’s multiple sources of drinking water and the foresight of a growing metropolis of building a retaining dam to create Lake Houston in the 1950s. What these have in common is the process of drinking and/or wastewater, water conservation and stewardship (protecting our water sources and our city infrastructure).

 

3. Do you work with different people in the Utility?

 

We typically get tours of the facilities and meet with everyone from upper administration to people working in the treatment plants and doing educational and/or public outreach.

 

 

 

4. Do you meet with City Council or other stakeholders? 

 

We’ve had to present to city council for approved funding or have met with council members whose district the museum will be in. In some cases, cities have a sustainability or environmental director who would have input on any educational opportunities for environmental stewardship or recycling that can be part of the facility. Water treatment and the urban water cycle touches so many facets of our lives and therefore translates through government entities and their varied departments. Issues such as flooding, subsidence, storm water, dumping, land use, waste removal and recycling, and parks and recreation.

 

 

 

School districts can be involved by suggesting curriculum that ties to standardized tests and corresponding grade levels, which can translate directly to field trips, which are the bulk of the attendance to these museums.

 

Some of the potential goals/outcomes for creating a water museum are:

 

  1. Educational awareness promoted by the museum will have a direct impact on the volume of water used by the city and its residents, dramatically reducing the amount of water treatment necessary—ultimately saving the city money. 
  2. Educational awareness promoted by the museum will actively reduce pollution and contaminants entering the city's water supply by promoting environmental water stewardship among its citizens.
  3. Development of the museum will demonstrate good faith in governmental conservation efforts and ecology issues.
  4. The museum's rich learning environment can potentially foster a generation of citizens who become interested in pursuing engineering and entrepreneurial careers in disciplines related to water use—sparking innovation in conservation technologies.

 

No matter how big or small, these projects are a great opportunity for the water utilities to have their voices heard in a new and creative way that can directly affect all our lives as it relates to water. Texans’ lives and fortunes have been inexorably linked to oil for many generations. Today, the future of Texas relies on another critical natural resource, water. Water is the New Oil—a finite, dwindling resource upon which the future of Texas depends.

 

 

About the Author

Alan Krathaus is a designer/artist from Houston, Texas and is co-founder of CORE Design Studio, a design/build studio with a focus on branding, print, experiential and exhibit design. He enjoys camping all over Texas with his kids and cares deeply about our state’s waterways.

 

Tags:  alan krathaus  core design studio  water communication  water education  water education center  water museum 

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