Quack And The Pack

A team of superhero characters helps a Montana city deliver messages about wise water use and pollution prevention to school children.
Quack And The Pack
Quack and the Pack are featured in a variety of the city’s communication materials.

It may not take a superpower to manage a city’s drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, but the Public Works Department in Billings, Mont., recently drew on the appeal of superhero characters to deliver its water conservation and management story to grade schools.

A superpower team, Quack and the Pack, is featured on a new website as part of the city’s Municipally Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) education component to inform residents about source water protection and water quality. The characters are becoming important tools for teaching the importance of stormwater pollution prevention to grades K-6 — emphasizing protection of rivers, streams and lakes, and tying back to drinking-water quality.

Historic beginnings

Billings was founded in 1882 as a railroad town, named for Frederick H. Billings, a former president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was nicknamed the Magic City for its rapid growth. The city maintains rapid growth and a strong economy.

Billings is the only Montana city with a population of more than 100,000. The Yellowstone River is the drinking water source for some 163,000 residents in the metropolitan area. The city’s first waterworks was created more than 125 years ago, delivering around 150,000 gpd of untreated water through 5.25 miles of pipe. The plant has seen many upgrades and expansions since and today provides conventional treatment of up to 65 mgd

Wise conservation

Area students are first exposed to water conservation in grade 4 and so are highly receptive to messages about improving the environment by the time they visit the drinking water plant. Tours start with a classroom visit from the Public Works staff and reinforce the schools’ water curriculum.

“To make tours more meaningful, we take the AWWA “Story of Drinking Water” handout to the classrooms so students can walk through that self-paced lesson before they come for a tour,” says Mike Rubich, P.E., water production superintendent. As many as 500 kids take tours each year.

“Our operations supervisor, Tom Ross, leads plant tours for the younger kids,” says Rubich. “If it’s an older group or college class, I usually conduct the tour to discuss the science of water treatment and the challenges of producing and delivering high-quality drinking water. Our treatment technicians also help with tours on occasion.” The hour-long tours often host groups of home-schooled students.

The department’s goal is to educate on how the plant operates and on the importance of using water wisely. “We prefer to use the term ‘wise water’ rather than water conservation,” Rubich says. “Water conservation implies that water we use from the Yellowstone River is permanently removed or lost from the water cycle, which is incorrect. Production and delivery of drinking water consumes large amounts of energy, much of it generated from nonrenewable resources. Wise water use ensures that we also don’t use any more energy than necessary.”

Collaborative effort

Community education is a collaborative effort between the Water Production and the Environmental Affairs Divisions of the Public Works Department. The Environmental Affairs team regularly staffs a water education booth at Saturday Live, an annual school district fundraiser held at a city park.

They also deliver a classroom curriculum that includes an overview of the importance of drinking water, wastewater treatment and stormwater management. Quack and the Pack were unveiled online in March 2013 as part of the MS4 education program.

“Quack is a super mallard duck with six superpower sidekicks targeted to fourth- and fifth-graders, each focused on a minimum control measure,” says Rubich. “For instance, Magnetic Quack uses his powers of attraction — for all things, not just metal — to get people involved in keeping their water clean.”

The www.billingsquackpack.com website offers games, facts about water, downloadable teacher resources and water-related games for kids as young as 6 years old. “We are tracking activity and traffic to see how frequently students and teachers access the site and will be looking to develop some sense of return on investment,” Rubich says.

The department uses Quack and The Pack at community events, such as the Montana Fair and the Science Expo. Kids can win one of The Pack — a rubber duck — if they can “flood the town” by pumping water into a hands-on flood model.

Delivering drinking water is what Rubich calls a “silent service.” Yet resident satisfaction surveys show that the water system always comes out on top among city services. This “superpower” department plans to bring its educational message to schools for years to come.


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