Cartoon Connections

Superhero Squirt and other characters help a California water district teach residents about water quality and water conservation
Cartoon  Connections
Todd Heard, owner of Treefox Cartoons and an animator who has worked on Garfield cartoons, helped bring Squirt and the Slurps family to life.

As guardians of an important underground resource, the leaders of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California find one of their great challenges is best described by an old adage: Out of sight, out of mind.

The WRD oversees the health and management of California’s West Coast and Central groundwater basins — large underground reservoirs that supply 40 percent of the water for 4 million people living in a 420-square-mile area covering southern Los Angeles County.

If the people served by the WRD think about water supplies at all, what often comes to mind is the extensive system of aqueducts that import water from river systems hundreds of miles away, says Greg Osti, online technology and data specialist.

“As unaware as people are about their water supply, they are even more unaware of the groundwater supply,” he observes. “People are generally surprised to learn how much water comes from underneath their feet and underneath their house.”


Story by superhero

That is why he has developed a series of three animated videos to carry the story of the district’s efforts to the public. The video series features a superhero — Squirt — along with Poppa Slurp, Daisy Slurp, a dog named Splott, and Wasted, a feckless character who has much to learn about water quality and conservation issues.

The Squirt character sprang from a project involving art students from the University of Southern California, who came to help WRD with some marketing ideas. “It was originally a one-off design,” Osti says. “But I got the idea that we should develop it into a line of characters.”

Osti got approval for the project and has been working with Todd Heard, owner of Treefox Cartoons and a veteran animator who has worked on Garfield cartoons and on many animated advertising projects.

The first video, posted at YouTube and linked from the WRD website, focuses on protection of the groundwater supply from possible contaminants including oil, acids and toxins.

The second cartoon, released early this year, focuses on the challenges of saltwater intrusion into the freshwater basins under southern Los Angeles County.


Being independent

Due to extensive overpumping from the region’s groundwater supply as far back as the 1920s and 1930s, several plumes of saltwater have infiltrated the basins. For decades, the WRD has been protecting the region’s water by injecting freshwater in key areas to build pressure and create barriers to further intrusion.

The third cartoon is a spoof on “The Wizard of Oz” and focuses on the importance of water conservation. The conservation angle is just as important as water quality, Osti says, because the long-term goal is to make the district independent of outside water sources.

The district will work in many ways to enhance Squirt’s visibility. “We’re creating a package for local-access TV, and our local PBS station has shown an interest,” Osti says. “The first video was sort of a soft launch for the program, but with a more fleshed-out series, we expect to use an online push to generate interest in our information.”

In addition to the videos, the district is developing Squirt-related activity books, cups, books and other promotional materials to promote the WRD brand and educate the public about the role the district will play as the region works to become self-sufficient.


Other venues

On many of the promotional items, Osti plans to embed quick response (QR) codes that can be scanned by smartphones and tablets to direct users straight to the Squirt videos. The videos will also be integrated with WRD education programs for local schools. Squirt and the Slurps will also play a role in future district advertising.

Squirt and the Slurps are also appearing on other WRD materials, including a poster promoting the district’s “Treasure Beneath Our Feet” groundwater festival, held in March.

Osti, who wrote the scripts for the videos, says the goal was to create short pieces that leave a lasting impression. From the appearance of the characters to the dialogue of the script, the goal is to plant important points about preserving the quality of groundwater and conserving the supply.

Although his job title suggests a technical role at WRD, Osti’s interest in the video project fits with his career track. He has worked with online projects for more than a decade. “I’ve had a few entertainment gigs, including at Paramount,” he says. “My background is kind of in the entertainment industry.”

He has been able to develop the story lines for the videos, “Because I’ve been involved in doing Internet and creative work for water agencies since 1998. I’ve learned a lot, and I know these are messages that water agencies need to get out to the public.”


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