Our Undervalued Resource: Tap Water – June 2012

 Water Professionals Share Methods to Raise Awareness About Tap Water

June 25, 2012

I had the pleasure of attending the American Water Works Association Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE12) in Dallas, Texas.  The conference was held at the Dallas Convention Center and was very well organized from check-in, to the expo hall, to the moderated sessions.  I’m told that participation was down this year, but I was again amazed at the number of water professionals that attend this conference every year.

Workshops, presentations, and training session are held concurrently over the five day conference. Of particular interest to me was the Public Affairs track sessions.  It is valuable to hear what other water utilities are doing to educate their customers and public at large.  The first session on Tuesday morning was co-presented by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s (DWSD) Public Affairs Manager, Mary Alfonso, and me.  Our presentation focused on sustaining a collaborative wholesale customer outreach program and the resulting positive outcomes.

Two other sessions that morning were of particular interest to me.  The first was the presentation by Kelley Dearing-Smith of the Louisville Water Company entitled, Drink to Your Health: A Clever Campaign to Promote Tap Water to Children.  Louisville has implemented their pure tap® program into the Jefferson County School District to provide tap water in every school lunchroom.   The federal mandated program; Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, requires that all school districts provide the students with access to free tap water.  Louisville Water’s program includes signage for drinking fountains, coolers for schools without functioning drinking fountains, and recycled BPA free water bottles.  The second presentation was by Catherine Howells, adjunct assistant professor at Portland State University.  Ms. Howells’ presentation was entitled, Teach The Tap: Partnerships Between Water Utilities And Universities.  She has developed a capstone course offering called “Teach the Tap” where students research the history of the water system, water quality, politics, and community relations. The class works with the water utilities to develop outreach products aimed at helping citizens better understand their water system. The metrics have shown that students partaking in this course have a significant desire to learn more about the water industry and to perhaps go on to become a water professional.

It is exciting to see private and public institutions utilizing social media and other large-scale public education programs to inform their citizens about the complicated process of bringing high quality water to their homes and businesses!