Three basic ideas permeate Joanne Rufft’s presentation for Artesian Water Company on the value of groundwater resources.
When Joanne Rufft visits a fourth grade classroom on Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula, she brings along a couple of models, some handouts, a video or two, and three phrases she repeats as often as possible during her 90-minute presentations.
“We talk about three principles when it comes to water: Preserve it. Protect it. Conserve it,” says Rufft, director of community relations and environmental initiatives for Artesian Water Company, an investor-owned utility based in Wilmington, Del.
“Those are the buzzwords that run through the whole program. We fit a lot of information into an hour and a half, and if the students can learn those principles, they can remember a lot more about their water supply.”
Models and more
When it comes to education programs, tours and community events, Rufft generally serves as the public face of Artesian Water. The company, principal subsidiary of Artesian Resources Corp., has provided water service in Delaware since 1905. It serves communities in all three Delaware counties and one Maryland county. Besides water services, the parent company has divisions offering wastewater treatment, utility development, engineering and wastewater management.
The education program, launched in 1992, was designed to fit into the Land and Water Unit of Environmental Science for Delaware schools. When the company acquired a water utility in Maryland’s Cecil County several years ago, Rufft met right away with school officials there: “We found our Delaware curriculum was a good fit for them, as well.”
The visual aids Rufft uses include an EnviroScape Non-Point Source Model and a Sand Tank Groundwater Model built and marketed by members of the student chapter of the American Water Resources Association at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point. On most classroom visits, Rufft also shows all or part of the AWWA educational video “The Story of Drinking Water,” and hands out its accompanying booklet.
Rufft’s program focuses heavily on the company’s primary source of water. “We explain what an aquifer is and what can affect the quality of our groundwater,” she says. “We explain the importance of being a good steward of the water.” She uses more than science and models to help students understand the water cycle: She likes tangible examples.
“When I tell kids that the water they drank this morning could be the same water their great-grandmother washed her laundry in 100 years ago, it has a great ‘Ooh effect,’” Rufft says. “That helps them to refer back to history and understand why we want to protect the water.”
The program also goes beyond the Delmarva Peninsula to educate students about the importance of safe drinking water: “I talk about how there are people in the world who don’t have water in their homes; that some have to walk miles to get to a source of water and then have to carry it back home for their families. I talk about how water is our most precious resource.”
Rufft uses that approach to reinforce why she keeps turning back to her three principles. In an average year, she presents to fourth graders at up to 24 schools in Delaware and Maryland’s Cecil County. Since the beginning, she has reached more than 22,000 students.
Plenty of company
Rufft and other members of the Artesian staff are available to more than just fourth grade science classes. Rufft puts together programs for other grades if teachers contact her with specific requests. She has talked to students in all grades, including high school and college environmental science classes.
Local Girl Scout troops have often called on Rufft to arrange programs, and she’s not the only Artesian employee who has supported the girls: “One year we had several troops come to our CEO Dian Taylor’s house for day-long programs on water. And then we took them to a water treatment plant for a tour.”
Joe DiNunzio, executive vice president of Artesian, says the organizations Rufft speaks to and the types of programs runs the gamut. Requests vary widely in a territory with 300,000 residents and 1,200 miles of water lines. The water utility maintains more than 50 wellfields on the peninsula and operates one surface water treatment plant.
Civic groups and community organizations have varied interests, which is why Rufft keeps a list of Artesian employees who can serve as a speakers’ bureau. She can call on water plant, wellfield and wastewater operators, customer service managers and more.
She gets frequent requests from groups who want someone from the business office to discuss billing and other service matters. Artesian employees also speak to teachers’ organizations, at programs of the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin, and events on campuses of Delaware Technical & Community College.
Rufft even serves as backup for parents on the Artesian payroll. “Sometimes, I will go in with an employee whose child has asked them to come and speak to their class,” she says. “The employee will talk all about his or her job, but wants me along to answer questions about areas of the operation outside their expertise.”
Whatever it takes to get across those three principles: Preserve it. Protect it. Conserve it.