Young Conservationists

Municipal Water District of Orange County poster/slogan contest lets students speak out on important water issues
Young Conservationists
The district’s 2011 Education Poster and Slogan Contest produced these winners. From left, poster by Brandon Lee, grade 1, Los Coyotes Elementary in La Palma; grand prize winner for grades 1-3 by Iris Lee, grade 2, Canyon View Elementary in Irvine; and grand prize winner for grades 4-6 by Deven Nagel, grade 4, La Veta Elementary in Orange.

When the Municipal Water District of Orange County (Calif.) wants to spread the word about water conservation and quality, it can count on some of its youngest customers for inspiration.

For more than 25 years, the district has sponsored an annual poster and slogan contest for elementary school students, attracting hundreds of entries each spring from children who have apparently heeded lessons offered through the district’s Water Education School Program.

The district’s 2011 contest attracted more than 800 entries, and the judges selected 15 poster winners and 15 slogan winners, including one grand prize winner in each of two age divisions.

With a poster announcing “It’s Time to Realize the Need to Be Water Wise,” Deven Nagel of La Veta Elementary School in Orange won an iPad as the grand prize winner in grades 4-6. In grades 1-3, Iris Lee of Canyon View Elementary in Irvine won the grand prize of two season passes to Disneyland for her poster: “Water Is Important for Every One … Save Water.”


Multiple rewards

In addition to trophies and certificates, the winning entries are framed and returned to the 30 winners at the annual awards program held at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana. Winners also receive a custom T-shirt with an image of their entry. There is a new theme for each year’s contest, and recently that has come from the past year’s winning slogan.

For 2012, organizers have been considering some big changes, including adding a digital arts division for junior high or senior high students. “We thought that would be a way to modernize the contest and capture the interest of older students,” says Jessica Ouwerkerk, the district’s public affairs specialist.

The district lies in the nation’s most populated metropolitan area, where the need to protect and conserve water resources has long been critical. That’s why education has been a top priority for nearly 40 years. “It’s one of the oldest water education programs in the nation,” says Ouwerkerk. “We have such a big population in Southern California and such a limited water resource that it’s always been an important issue.”

The district is part of a multi-tiered water system in the region. It is the imported water supplier for 28 water agencies serving most of Orange County, part of the Los Angeles metro area. The district, which serves 2.3 million people, buys imported water from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and resells it to 28 local agencies. The water comes from the Colorado River and Northern California through the State Water Project.


Education partner

The district’s Water Education School Program was shaped and staffed by district employees for 30 years. But by 2004 the program had become so large that the district needed help. “That’s when we contracted with Discovery Science Center,” says Ouwerkerk, who has overseen the education efforts for six years.

The center now provides the instructors and conducts school assemblies. Grade-specific programs are offered for grades K-5. Organizers expect presentations aligned with California’s science curriculum to reach almost 80,000 students in more than 200 schools this year.

“We focus on basic water issues for our district – the water cycle, the resources where Southern California gets its water, how the water gets to us,” Ouwerkerk says. “The teachers tend to be very excited about their subject. It’s not just sit and listen. It’s more interactive. They bring kids up on stage for some demonstrations. They get the kids moving in their seats.”

An indicator of the program’s effectiveness is the career of Nicol Alkov, a groundwater hydrologist for the engineering firm CH2M HILL. In a newsletter article, Alkov says she first became interested in the water cycle during a first grade Water Education School assembly.


Popular mascot

Although the education program has evolved, one thing that hasn’t changed is its mascot. Although his appearance has been updated, Ricki the Rambunctious Raindrop was there at the very beginning. “Everybody knows the name Ricki the Raindrop — everybody from age 40 down to kindergarten,” Ouwerkerk says. The district estimates the program has reached nearly 3 million students, and adults’ memories of Ricki are a sign they paid attention during assemblies.

One more program targeting youthful water users in Orange County is a joint project with the Orange County Water District, which manages groundwater resources in the county. The O.C. Water Hero program seeks to get children to help cut water usage in the face of drought.

Youths are asked to sign a pledge to work to save 20 gallons a day, in exchange for which they earn a Water Hero badge. They also get a “Fix it” ticket pad they can use to “bust” water wasters, a conservation tips magnet, a shower timer, a Water Hero flying disc, water activity sheets, and stickers with conservation tips. They also get a parent pledge form so they recruit adults. Children who get their parents on board are promoted to “Water Superhero.”


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