Team Effort

A multi-disciplinary group produces a digital program that works online and in presentations, delivering a positive message for the Twin Cities clean-water agency.

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In 2002, a “Wastewater Treatment for Youngsters” digital slide show and picture book was a big step forward for the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services, harnessing the Internet to help spread an important message in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Now, more than a decade later, it has become a popular and durable communications tool, thanks in great part to the team effort behind its creation. MCES operates seven wastewater treatment plants serving 2.7 million people in 106 cities, villages and townships covering 876 square miles.

Multiple functions

Tim O’Donnell, senior information coordinator/project citizen liaison, says the slide show grew out of discussion among utility leaders on ways to share a positive message. An environmental education team was formed, drawing from wastewater operations, water resources, industrial waste, research and development, process engineering, water quality monitoring and information services.

A key team member was Gare Frick, a wastewater operator who moved on to a job as a draftsman, became a graphic designer, and has since retired. Frick produced the graphics and most of the writing for the project, which uses drawings and photos to show the treatment process. The story is told from the viewpoint of host Snowy, a great egret, and co-hosts Drake and Froggster.

The drawings clearly picture how each step of treatment works, helping students and adults understand how the MCES system protects the Mississippi River. Although the slide show has received the most attention, it was not the education team’s only project. The team also worked with several dozen Twin Cities agencies to establish the annual Children’s Water Festival and takes part in the region’s annual Earth Fest each Earth Day at the Minnesota Zoo.

Using resources

O’Donnell credits the MCES team for its broad outlook at the utility’s ties to the communities it serves: “They worked on a number of projects and they looked at our approach to making information available to area schools. They asked, ‘What resources do we have available and what do others have that we can tie into?’”

Among the “others” was WaterShed Partners, a regional coalition of more than 60 public, private, and non-profit organizations. MCES made CDs and accompanying printed materials available to the coalition, sponsored by Hamline University, because it already conducted classroom programs. “That way we could extend our reach,” O’Donnell says.

The slide show was popular from the beginning and continues to attract attention from the MCES service area and around the world. The show gets more hits than any other feature on the MCES section of the council website.

“We got about 12,000 hits on our “Wastewater Treatment for Youngsters” page in 2012,” O’Donnell says. “Many of those were probably teachers who would download the PDF and then present that to students, so it’s hard to say how many people saw the presentation last year, but it’s got quite a reach.”

Several people on the MCES team knew how water quality was being treated in the schools and worked to include topics that teachers were talking about in their lessons. MCES has received good feedback from teachers and youth group leaders. One point made by many adults is that “they didn’t realize how much they would be learning,” says O’Donnell.

Part of a package

Although the presentation is more than 10 years old, “It does not easily become outdated. We’ve hit on something that’s pretty effective and has some durability to it.” Some of the information changes with the introduction of new facilities or new data. The slide show is one of four key elements in the MCES education and outreach program. The others include:

A 14-minute video produced in 2010 with the assistance of University of Minnesota student Tim Bornholdt, who worked with MCES communications specialist Bobbie Chong. The video gives the history of the utility before taking viewers through the treatment process as MCES employees explain the steps.

Traveling interactive exhibits with printed materials. MCES educators like Linda Henning take the exhibits to classrooms and community events.

Tours at four treatment plants. The tours are offered to those in the seventh grade and older. About 1,100 people per year take tours — half students and half adults.


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