Cleaning Up and Conserving

Macon Water Authority’s public outreach efforts are recognized with multiple awards from a Georgia association.
Cleaning Up and Conserving
L. David Martin Jr. was all smiles looking over the fish his family caught during the MWA Kids Fishing Derby.

Interested in Education/Training?

Get Education/Training articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Education/Training + Get Alerts

Taking home the prize for "Biggest Catch of the Day" would put a smile on any young fisherman's face. That's just one award bestowed at the Macon Water Authority's (MWA) annual Kids Fishing Derby.

The Derby and the Ocmulgee Alive! river cleanup, award-winning components of MWA's public outreach program, draw hundreds of visitors to the Macon area and generate awareness on the importance of water as a resource.

In 2011, the Derby earned the Georgia Association of Water Professionals' Best Innovative Initiative Award in Public Education, then the river cleanup won GAWP's Certificate of Distinguished Achievement. In the bargain, the MWA received the GAWP Gold Award for its wastewater collection system.

Unique identity

The authority has put its best foot forward in educating the public on water quality. The Lower Poplar Street Water Reclamation Facility (12 mgd average) and the Rocky Creek Water Reclamation Facility (18.5 mgd) serve more than 45,000 customers in Macon and Bibb counties.

"MWA strives to make our customers aware of our environmental stewardship, and that they have a responsibility for that stewardship," says Mark Wyzalek, director of laboratory and environmental compliance for MWA.

Started about eight years ago, the Ocmulgee Alive! river cleanup is held with the statewide Rivers Alive campaign in October each year to commemorate the Clean Water Action month. Wyzalek worked with board members to bring the cleanup to fruition. "The Macon area needed a regular cleanup event," he says. "I saw the value in it for the authority and for the community."

The local event has its own identity with the help of local sponsors like YKK USA (a manufacturer of zippers) and Graphic Packaging International. "We have really good partnerships with local companies that sponsor the event," says Wyzalek. "We have our own T-shirt every year, and the sponsors' donations help pay for those. Most other cleanups get the generic Rivers Alive shirt. We want to make people feel how unique it is to Macon as part of the community."

The river cleanup is open to all ages. Volunteers meet on a Saturday to clean up the river system that branches off of the Ocmulgee River. Wastewater discharge is only one form of point source pollution to the streams, explains Wyzalek. "Our goal is to help everyone become aware of water quality and what it means to the community," he says. "They can see firsthand the effects of non-point pollution, in this case, littering."

Innovative learning

Community members can also take part in a fishing competition offered by MWA. Each year, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources sets aside three days in which people are allowed to fish without licenses. MWA selects one of those days for the Kids Fishing Derby. Kids ages 3 to 16 fish in Javors Lucas Lake, a 625-acre lake that supplies drinking water to Macon and Bibb counties. They compete to catch bass, bream and catfish.

"We host the tournament, but a local sporting goods store, Academy Sports & Outdoors, sponsors it," says Gary McCoy, MWA director of water. "We educate the public on the importance of water. The Department of Natural Resources is out there explaining fishing rules and regulations."

To get the word out about the event, the MWA public relations team sends out flyers to all local television and radio stations, churches and youth organizations. "We do all the advertising ourselves," says McCoy. MWA volunteers include plant superintendents, board members, operators and even the executive director.

No kid goes home without a prize. All the money MWA raises goes directly back into the fishing tournament. With more than 80 sponsors, kids receive about $5,000 in prizes each year, ranging from MP3 players and Wii gaming devices to haircuts and McDonald's gift certificates.

Critical education

Operator Bobby Davis works at the Rocky Creek plant. As a volunteer at the derby, he helped prepare food and organize the kids. "I think the kids really enjoy the derby," says Davis. "The water authority really stocks those ponds to ensure the kids catch something. A lot of the kids have never been fishing before. I think the event will leave a good impression with them."

The fishing derby is meant to teach young people and adults about water. "We have to educate the public that water is our most precious resource," says McCoy. "Our water comes from the Ocmulgee River. What you put in that river, you're actually putting in your system. This is the same water, just recycled over and over again.

"We have to educate people on certain contaminants that water and wastewater treatment plants cannot remove."


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.