Closing the Deal

A clever marketing program helps Pompano Beach perk up demand for its residential reuse water and build up the base of customers

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Reclaiming wastewater for reuse in irrigation is a great and increasingly widespread policy. But what if no one is signing up to use the reclaimed water?

The city of Pompano Beach, Fla., faced that challenge in recent years after launching a residential water reuse program to go along with its successful commercial offering. Homeowners were reluctant to sign on because they perceived the up-front connection cost as too high and disliked the headache of contracting for the hookup on their own.

To remedy that, the city turned to a marketing program that combines creative pricing and service with a promotional campaign targeting the limited number of customers in areas where the reuse water distribution system is in place.

The program generated interest almost immediately — within a month and a half after its launch in July, the city (population 104,000) had received nearly 100 requests for reuse water and had more than 50 of them essentially ready to connect.

Don Baylor, the city’s water reuse plant superintendent, and Maria Loucraft, lab manager and also charged with special projects, talked about the program, which operates under the banner of “I Can Water,” in an interview with Treatment Plant Operator.

TPO: What is the history of the city’s water reuse program?

Loucraft: We call the reclaimed water system OASIS — Our Alternate Supply Irrigation System. Pompano Beach doesn’t have a wastewater treatment plant. We send our wastewater to Broward County, and then we take some of the secondary effluent from them as it is headed out toward the ocean outfall. We bring it into our reuse facility, where it receives some additional filtration and disinfection and then use it for irrigation.

Baylor: The Pompano Beach tertiary treatment process uses sand media upflow filters for particulate removal, followed by chlorination. The daily flow of the plant is 2 mgd, the total capacity is 7.5 mgd, and it has physical capacity to upgrade to 12.5 mgd.

TPO: Who are the primary reuse water customers?

Baylor: Our long-time customer is the City of Pompano Beach Golf Course, which has two 18-hole courses. We have also watered median strips around the Pompano Beach airport, as well as several parks and playing fields in that same general area.

TPO: How did the residential water reuse program begin?

Loucraft: A number of years ago, the golf course over-pumped its groundwater wells. When they went to the water management district for their consumptive use permit, they were denied unless reclaimed water could be made available. When the city went in shortly after to ask for its consumptive use permit for the drinking water wells, we were forced to put in a reuse water facility, which we built in 1989.

Part of our consumptive use permit stipulated that we needed to provide irrigation to residential customers. We began building the residential system in 2003, but we didn’t get a lot of demand from residential customers.

TPO: Why would you say there was resistance from the residential sector?

Loucraft: We didn’t make connections mandatory, and people weren’t connecting because of the up-front cost to connect and because of the private site work that had to be done on their property. Besides the connection, they needed backflow prevention and a thermal expansion device. That typically cost from $500 to $1,000, depending on layout of property.

We have more than 300 existing customers, including the city accounts and commercial accounts that are required to hook up. But until this year, we only had 73 residential customers. Meanwhile, we are adding about 10,000 feet of pipe per year to the reuse water distribution system, and that translates to about 200 more homes per year that could be brought online. As it stands today, our system could accommodate about 1,200 residential customers.

TPO: What was the thought process behind the “I Can Water” campaign?

Loucraft: On seeing that the customers weren’t connecting, the city commission directed us to find a better approach. They allowed us to come up with a new, more creative way to connect those customers.

What we came up with was hiring a contractor who would oversee the work on the customers’ private properties, while the city would take care of financing for that and recover it through the reuse water rates structure. So now the up-front cost to homeowners is nothing.

The rate for new connections went up a little bit compared to the rate for existing reuse customers. So to reward those existing customers who had hooked up and paid their own money up front, we are taking over their backflow device so they no longer have to go through annual checks, and we are keeping them at the lower rate.

It’s quite a bit of cost to connect each customer, but we also have received a grant from Broward County. They’ve offered us up to $220,000 to assist us with the connection costs. So we have partners in this.

TPO: How do the rates for reuse water and potable water compare?

Baylor: The residential rate for existing customers is 61 cents per 1,000 gallons, and the rate for new customers is 84 cents per 1,000 gallons. In both cases there is an additional $7.88 per month availability fee. Potable water rates start at $2.24 per 1,000 gallons, and most customers pay an availability fee of $12.88 per month. Our rates are tiered for conservation and also depend on meter size.

TPO: How was the marketing and promotion campaign put together?

Loucraft: “I Can Water” is the marketing side of the program. That was approved by the commission in July, so we are in the first stages.

The marketing was very important to us because we are pretty much left-brain, technical people here. We needed advice from someone on the outside who thinks more like the public. We hired Environmental PR Group. We described the program to them, and they came up with marketing approaches.

TPO: Why did you choose “I Can Water” as the catch phrase?

Loucraft: We’re under water restrictions here in South Florida and we thought that by saying we can actually provide the freedom to water, that would be a catchy way for people to remember the program.

Baylor: People can use reuse water a lot more often than they can use potable water for irrigating their lawns. There’s a minimal time frame in which you can use potable water. It’s two days a week depending on your address. On the other hand, they can use reuse water any day of the week, except they can’t use water between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That’s the hottest part of the day, and Broward County issued that restriction for the sake of water efficiency.

TPO: What are the components of the promotional campaign?

Loucraft: We have a slide presentation on Pompano Beach local access cable TV. There is a website at www.icanwater.com. We have a hotline where people can call and leave their name and number so that they can be hooked up.

We have sent out three sets of mailers to the eligible customers. Six-foot banners have been placed at strategic locations. There’s one at the golf course and one at one of the city customer service centers, and one travels with our presentations. We have a booth at community events, and we’re starting a series of homeowner association meetings.

Baylor: We’ve also issued press releases to local media, and our utilities director, Randy Brown, has given interviews to local media.

TPO: What has been the cost of the promotional activities?

Loucraft: The marketing program hasn’t cost us a lot so far. Even including the development of our Web page, I don’t think we have even reached $30,000.

TPO: How many people are you targeting to connect through this program?

Loucraft: We would love to reach a total of 1,200 residential customers in another two years. Our goal is to reach 750. We would consider 750 a success. That would represent 92.4 million gallons per year in potable water savings from about 700 new hookups, or 0.25 mgd of increase in reuse water distribution.

TPO: What has been the reaction to this program so far? What are you seeing in terms of interest?

Loucraft: There is a lot of interest. We have received a lot of calls. People are very eager and excited about the program. We’re hoping to keep it running smoothly and keep firing ahead. We hope people don’t get impatient with us, because they want it yesterday.

Baylor: We have 52 residential customers for whom we already have plumbers’ quotes and are in the queue for connecting. We have another 40 or so who have asked us to contact them with information and pricing.

TPO: Besides the promotional program, what do you think accounts for this increase in acceptance of the residential reuse program?

Loucraft: People are excited because now the connection is being done for them and they don’t have the up-front costs. In the past they had to hire their own plumber. A lot of cities still do it that way. This is a bit different. Our goal was to make it no problem at all for the customers. They sign one form that allows us to work on their property, and after that we want no headaches whatsoever for them.

TPO: How do you physically make the connection to the house?

Loucraft: It’s connected directly to their irrigation system. We also have to make sure that backflow prevention is installed on the potable side and then an expansion device is installed. For people who don’t have irrigation systems, we want to serve them as well, so we have come up with a prototype for a hose bib. Some restrictions go with that. It has to be in front of the home. It has to be lockable. We have to meet the state regulations with it. But that option is there for people who don’t have in-ground systems.

TPO: Looking at the bigger picture, are there any other benefits to the residential reuse program?

Baylor: Yes, there is one really good side benefit. If you were to look on a map at the saltwater intrusion line that follows the eastern coast of Florida, you would see that line take a significant dip to the east right where we’re supplying this reuse water. We’re protecting the groundwater farther to the west, which is where one of our well fields is located. This reuse water is actually helping to protect our drinking water supply.



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