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Interactive education center increases public involvement
An interactive educational center focusing on water conservation opened its doors in 2008. The Carlos M. Ramirez TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center includes 16 exhibit areas that combine audio, visual, and tactile learning experiences to engage and inform all ages on the many facets of water management.
“The exhibits are really amazing,” said Christina Montoya, vice president of communications and marketing at El Paso (Texas) Water Utilities. They incorporate puzzles, games, maps, graphics, fun facts, and educational information to read; native desert animal specimens and sound recordings; microscopes; and gardens. Some examples are the reclaimed-water exhibit, teaching about how wastewater is recycled and used for irrigation; the wildlife and flora exhibit, teaching about animals and plants in the desert that depend on local water resources; the home conservation exhibit, displaying low-flow toilets and other water-saving household installations; and the xeriscape garden, showing how to landscape with native, water-efficient plants.
|Different groups, including both children and adults, participate in TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center's interactive exhibits. Photos courtesy of El Paso (Texas) Water Utilities. Click for larger images.|
“It’s a really great facility,” Montoya said. “It’s appealing not only for the children but for the adults, too.” The center focuses not only on teaching about water conservation but also the water cycle and the path that water follows from the sky to the tap, she added. The center uses a traveling exhibit, a sand-based model of the local area on a platform, to show how stormwater flows through the area. The utilities take this traveling exhibit to other outreach events to encourage more visitors to come to the center.
Comprehensive Water Conservation Program
Opening the Carlos M. Ramirez TecH2O Water Resources Learning Center is only one of many efforts by El Paso Water Utilities to promote water conservation. The Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) Corporate Member created a conservation plan in 1991 that included an ordinance specifying water restrictions for residents and a conservation department in charge of education and outreach to the public.
Through the years, the utilities’ conservation efforts expanded to include rebates for xeriscaping and installation of low-flow appliances. In 2007, the utilities opened the Kay Bailey Hutchison Desalination Plant.
|View of the exterior of the TecH2O Center from the front (above), and rear (below). Behind the center is a Xeriscape garden for visitors to tour as an example of green space that does not require excess watering. Photo courtesy of El Paso Water Utilities. Click for larger images. |
“Conservation is key here,” Montoya said. El Paso is located in the Chihuahuan Desert and receives 203 mm (8 in.) of rainfall each year.
El Paso sits on the border of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico and shares its water resources with these areas. “We share those water resources with another country and another state, so to conserve it for the future, we’ve tried to focus our efforts on obtaining water from other renewable sources,” Montoya said. El Paso Water Utilities has turned to primarily using river water for drinking water, with desalination providing a supplemental drinking water source and reclaimed water for irrigation.
Education Center Increases Outreach
“[Outreach is] why this education center was important,” Montoya said. “It was another outlet for us to educate the community on conservation and what the utility is doing overall to conserve.” The 2830-m2 (30,450-ft2) center has helped El Paso Water Utilities increase its outreach substantially, she added. Before the center opened, the conservation department staff would make 100 to 200 presentations a year at schools and events, on average. In 2009, the department made about 500 presentations, both at the center and outside the center.
Also during 2009, the center hosted approximately 17,000 visitors, ranging from 200 to 1400 a month, Montoya said. “We’ve been able to really expand our outreach because people can come to the center,” she said. Appointments can be made to visit the center during the week, and it is open to the public on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The center includes classroom-type settings and an auditorium, outdoor plaza, amphitheater, and exhibit area. It is available for receptions, training, seminars, workshops, conferences, lectures, presentations, and hands-on activities.
|Interior view of the TecH2O Center. Photo courtesy of El Paso Water Utilities. Click for larger image.
El Paso Water Utilities partners with different organizations to host a variety of different events at the center, from conferences, to outreach events, to utility training. Annually, the center hosts a water festival with 1 day dedicated to school student visitors and the second day dedicated to public visitors, Montoya said. In April, a recycling fair called Recycle2Go will showcase innovative ways to reuse resources and a drop-off where visitors can bring their old materials, such as television sets, computers, and cell phones, to be recycled. In addition, every month, a science café open to the public is organized by local universities and held at the center, where professionals and educators lecture about different topics, from desalination to xeriscaping, Montoya said.
Recently, the center hosted a conference focused on educating utilities in the United States and Mexico on water conservation techniques and how to improve the efficiency of water treatment systems. The center was meant to be a tool to educate not only the public but also utility staff and managers, Montoya explained.
Efforts Show Real Results
For the future, El Paso Water Utilities plans to continue building on what it has already established. Water conservation has “become a way of life in El Paso,” Montoya said. “We just need to continue with what we’re doing.” Because residents participated in the rebate programs and adhered to water restrictions, the area’s individual daily water use has been reduced by 30%, she added. Before water conservation efforts, each individual used 757 L/d (200 gal/d), but this has been reduced to 503 L/d (133 gal/d).
The El Paso Water Utilities’ efforts during the past 2 decades have helped avoid water shortages. “Because of what we’ve done, we are not facing some of the problems some of the other cities in Texas are facing,” Montoya said. “We’ve really diversified the resources.” El Paso Water Utilities has tripled the amount of water that it takes from surface water, which amounts to 60% of its total supply on a yearly basis, and it can rely on drinking water from the desalination plant during water shortages.
Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights
Water, as Seen From the Moon
A recent spike in water crisis messaging captures public attention
There is mounting media buzz from a recent surge in global water crisis campaigns. Water.org (Kansas City, Mo.), which provides safe drinking water and sanitation to people in developing countries, received recognition in part because of Matt Damon’s organizational involvement. The recent Procter & Gamble (Cincinnati) CoverGirl–PUR® Clean Makeup for Clean Water campaign received marketplace visibility because of Queen Latifah’s role as a CoverGirl spokesmodel. And Jane Seymour brought light as narrator in Jim Thebaut’s documentary “Running Dry: The American Southwest.”
Seeking to raise awareness of the global water crisis, Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil and OneDrop.org (Montreal), arranged through NASA to host a broadcast from outer space last October. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, U2, Tatuya Ishii, and many other big names volunteered participation.
The event, titled Poetic Social Mission, received the exposure equivalency of $600 million for its $6 million to $7 million investment, according to a study by Montreal-based Influence Communication. And it has gone viral: OneDrop.org’s Facebook page has 13,921 fans, and the 2-hour video was downloaded more than “half a million times,” said One Drop Foundation executive Lili-Anna Peresa.
|Guy Laliberté (front row, second from the left), founder of OneDrop.org, on the October 2009 Poetic Social Mission in space. Photo courtesy of OneDrop.org. Click for larger image.
Water issues are getting more attention from the media and general public. But for all this publicity, what progress is achieved for the people in need?
Reaching a New Audience
The recent heralded global water publicity campaigns and product-driven fundraisers are providing both short- and long-term safe water access and sanitation in areas that need it the most around the world. Varied approaches offer marketing lessons and show that classic variables, such as funding and powerful imagery, cast the line far, and engage the public.
Water.org created a campaign targeting women. “We wanted to tell the story that water is a women’s crisis,” said Mike McCamon, the organization’s chief community officer. He said the campaign, which used a combination of videos, public relations, and outreach to press, was successful because the site saw a lift in traffic, received magazine coverage (including placement in Glamour and Parade magazines), and a large blog response in the women’s sector.
|A young Ethiopian girl drinks from a new well provided by Water.org. Photo courtesy of Water.org. Click for larger image. |
135 community-based water improvements projects, established more than 6000 individual household water connections, constructed more than 2500 toilets, provided 4940 WaterCredit loans, empowering individuals and mainly women to obtain water and toilet connections in its 20 years.
Cover Girl–PUR, which recently launched social and broadcast media campaign elements, intends to host a spring 2010 competition at select urban retail stores to drive purchase of its Clean Makeup product line — in part to generate funds for 50 million L of clean drinking water, made possible by the Proctor & Gamble Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program’s distribution of PUR packets in the Dominican Republic.
Queen Latifah, “as both the face of CoverGirl Clean Makeup and as an ambassador for the PUR brand, draws national attention to this important cause of clean water,” said Paige Cali, CoverGirl external relations manager.
In the 2 years since its founding, OneDrop.org has reached 1350 families in Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador with 10-year tool kits that filter water, drip-irrigate crops, capture rainwater, and provide high-efficiency wood ovens for less ground clearing. In 2011, the organization will launch a similar program in West Africa with a goal to reach another 2000 families.
Water.org has served 136,500 people with clean water and 67,000 people with sanitation, completed
|From left, Queen Latifah and Dania Ramirez appear at the Cover Girl Clean Makeup for Clean Water campaign launch party in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of CoverGirl. Click for larger image.|
|Dania Ramirez for CoverGirl Clean Makeup for Clean Water in partnership with Children’s Safe Drinking Water demonstrates PUR packets in Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of CoverGirl. Click for larger image.|
Product-driven fundraisers, such as the Ethos bottled water campaign launched by Starbucks Corp. (Seattle), also have been successful. The Starbucks Foundation (Seattle) committed $6.2 million in grants from bottled water sales since 2005 and works with reputable on-the-ground charity partners, such as WaterAid (London), which focuses work in 26 countries and has provided safe water access to 13.44 million people since 1981 and sanitation to 8.16 million people since 2004, according to its Web site. Sale of Ethos Water benefits “more than 420,000 people in water-stressed countries,” said Amy Anderson, Starbucks communications program manager.
The Ethos campaign message has “continued to resonate with customers and [employees],” Anderson said. “Their action in supporting the water crisis is simple and tangible.”
Perhaps visible point-of-purchase and cause-marketing efforts help the public feel that they are making a difference. It also seems that the most touchable images are powerful tools in conveying complex water messages swiftly across broad channels. Guy Laliberté knows that from the moon’s view, it’s easy for people to see Earth is a blue planet, and Water.org knows that the Web site home page caption “Matt Damon Moving Mountains,” with an image of him on location in a developing nation, is compelling.
More Coordination Needed?
As Pacific Institute (Oakland, Calif.) President Peter Gleick has said, “We’ve no choice but to cooperate over water.” However, for the time being, the entities working to raise public consciousness about the global water crisis are mostly working independently.
John Sauer, communications director for Water Advocates (Washington, D.C.), a nonprofit founded to increase American support for worldwide safe water access, acknowledged that while many have helped focus attention on the water crisis issue, nobody has stepped up to lead the campaign.
Filmmaker Thebaut noted that with current global population predictions at 9.2 billion by 2050, all of these campaigns are “a drop in the bucket” to what may in the future materialize as global conflict over food and water. “Everyone is scattering their shots,” he said. “I’d like to see everyone pooling together.”
|From left, Water.org co-founders Gary White and Matt Damon join residents in Hyderabad, India, in celebrating their new water connection. Photo courtesy of Water.org. Click for larger image.|
Andrea Fox, WEF Highlights
Running Wastewater Through Tweets and Blogs
Of all the people Twittering about water in Oregon, Brian Wegener is probably one of the most prolific. He posted 23 updates for the Tualatin River Network in the first week of February, and has 450 people who follow him. He often posts about wastewater issues, and what is his easiest up-to-the-minute source of wastewater news? Twitter. “I use Twitter as a news feed,” he said.
Wegener is in the middle of the new conversation taking place between utilities and their customers through social media. Social media encompass many ways of communicating online that enable many people to comment or add their own material. According to a 2008 study conducted by Cone (Boston), a marketing research and communications company, about 40% of Americans use social media at least once a week.
Water and wastewater utilities have started using social media to get their message out and hear feedback from their communities. Utilities have gravitated most toward Twitter, which distinguishes itself with its 140-character limit on updates.
|A video from the U.S. Army’s Web site shows their rehabilitation of a Maryland wetland. Photo courtesy of Matthew Frank.|
Mark Jockers, director of public affairs at Clean Water Services in Hillsboro, Ore., says that social media now are his preferred way of reaching his customers. “We used to spend a lot on printing and postage for direct mail that few people ever read,” he said. “We’ve reduced that by $20,000 and now post updates on Twitter and other social media instead. It’s faster, easier, and a good photo or video gets us a lot of attention.”
“Nice story in the Stockton [Calif.] Record about fishing and looking for wildlife at Los Vaqueros,” was a recent tweet by Contra Costa Water (Concord, Calif.). The tweet concluded with the shortened link http://bit.ly/a00Yl2 to more information.
South Florida Water began a recent message with hashes to indicate the subject: “#Water #Conservation Tip: Use timers on irrigation systems and portable sprinklers to prevent overwatering. www.savewaterfl.com.”
Other utilities emphasize a visual approach to social media. The Greenfield (Ind.) Water Utility recently tore down its old water plant and posted pictures to its Facebook account. The “face” of the utility is its bulb-shaped water tower. The City of Pleasant Prairie, Wis., posted a video to YouTube explaining its water budget. The Portland (Ore.) Water Bureau posts photos to its blog nearly every other day.
At Aqueous Advisors (New York), we’ve made YouTube videos featuring utility representatives. These videos allow the community to see their representatives’ personalities in a format that’s quicker and easier than holding a community meeting.
Jill Horist, director of public affairs at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, said social media can be useful without even being “social.” “It allows us to provide immediate answers in questionable situations: severe weather events, notification of service changes, construction [and] traffic alerts, etc.,” she said. “Mayors, managers, [and] public works directors get reliable information for their constituents, and the constituents get it first-hand, too.”
In doing all of this, water and wastewater utilities are getting into a game that other sectors got into 3 years ago — a long time in the world of online media.
Mike Hollywood, director of new media at communications firm Cone, said Cone’s studies show that when people have an opportunity to interact with companies online, most of them feel a stronger connection and feel better served. “And when they interact with their utilities online, they ought to feel a stronger and better connection there, too,” he added.
Matthew Frank, Aqueous Advisors
WEF Forms Partnership With NOWRA
The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) and the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA; Madison, Wis.) formed a new partnership that took effect Feb. 1. The boards of trustees of both organizations passed a resolution formalizing a 3-year agreement to collaborate and promote a shared vision of an integrated and holistic approach to water, stormwater, and wastewater management.
Leaders from both organizations have agreed that a strategic partnership can leverage their respective resources and capabilities to advance mutual goals and interests. NOWRA, a nonprofit organization that educates and represents the decentralized systems and onsite wastewater treatment profession, will relocate to the Washington, D.C., area with staff and offices being housed in WEF’s headquarters.
“WEF has long been the go-to source of information for centralized wastewater treatment training and education, and NOWRA is the acknowledged leader for decentralized approaches,” said WEF President Paul Freedman. “While these two approaches haven’t been easily reconciled in the past, this strategic partnership demonstrates both organizations’ interest in collaboration with a view toward a common goal of a cleaner global water environment.”
The two organizations will partner to expand knowledge sharing and training in common areas, promote new technologies and applications for onsite and natural treatment systems, educate the public on proper use and benefits of onsite and natural system technologies, and promote consistent regulation for effective management and oversight. WEF and NOWRA will explore collaboration on educational events, increased content and options for distance learning, joint publications, and offering more varied perspectives about water quality issues to their respective members. For more information about NOWRA, see www.nowra.org.
US EPA Office of Water Welcomes New Deputy Assistant Administrator
Nancy Stoner joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water. From 1997 to 1999, she directed the Office of Planning and Policy Analysis in EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. More recently, she was co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC; New York) Water Program. She also served as project director and attorney for NRDC’s Clean Water Project for nearly 10 years.
Web Site Resources — Georgia Association of Water Professionals Educates Students
||Students now have another resource for learning about water and the water treatment industry. The Georgia Association of Water Professionals (Marietta), a Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) Member Association, created an outreach program, H2Opportunity, to provide users with an understanding of water issues and the water industry.
Tools available on the Web site, http://h2opportunity.net, focus on educating Georgia students from elementary school through college on the water cycle, drinking water, groundwater, watersheds, water conservation and preservation, and water industry careers. The site includes sections for different grade levels, including elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.
Each section has links to educational information in the form of text, videos, interactive games, surveys, and a blog. In addition, the site includes an Ask an Expert section where students can inquire about jobs or the water industry, a Meet a Water Professional section where site visitors can learn the background and responsibilities of those working in the industry, an Explore Career Paths section where descriptions of different positions in the water industry can be found, a Job Bank with links to recent job listings, and a Corporate/Utility Members section encouraging businesses to become members to recruit new employees.
Photo courtesy of Ashley Simeone, Georgia Association of Water Professionals (Marietta).
Do you have a fun or useful Web resource to share? Send a link to your favorite water Web site with a description of what it is and why you think it is useful for water professionals to Highlights Editor Jennifer Fulcher at