From Inside Out

Maybe operator associations have value beyond networking and professional advancement. Maybe public outreach from that level can multiply impact.

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Clean-water operator associations are generally places for networking, learning and sharing best practices. What if they could have power as focal points for public outreach?

In my years of observing and reporting on the industry, I’ve seen the Water Environment Federation as a major source of public education, and ditto for many clean-water agencies. In the vast middle lie the Water Environment Associations (WEF affiliates), the water pollution control associations, the wastewater operator associations, and other groups organized by state or region, mainly providing services to industry professionals.

But what if these groups added more public outreach to their missions? They don’t ignore it now; most of them have public education committees and public education awards. But what if they took on a greater role as the public face of the industry in their territories?

The Maine Example

This issue of TPO contains an example of what I mean. The Maine Wastewater Control Association (MWWCA) sponsors an annual poster contest for kids during the state’s official Clean Water Week. Such contests more commonly are conducted at the utility or plant level. So why not just leave it there?

Well, because a state organization carries more clout and covers more ground. Consider the impact in Maine. The poster contest each year includes an awards presentation at the statehouse, with the governor in attendance. Could the Any City Clean Water Plant by itself get participation from that level of government? Not likely.

Could the Any City plant get statewide pickup of a news release about its poster contest winners? Again, not likely.

Multiplier Effect

Of course, many treatment plants hold outstanding public outreach events — water festivals, special themed tours, summer camps and more. But their reach is limited. What if the best of these events could be replicated across a state or region?

Consider the WaterPalooza festival held last September by the plant team in St. Joseph, Mo. What if the Missouri Water and Wastewater Conference held a statewide WaterPalooza on a given weekend (say, around Earth Day) and issued an instruction manual for plants wishing to take part.

Now it becomes a statewide event sure to get extensive notice in print, broadcast and online media. That should mean the word gets out to more people, attendance is greater and a stronger impression is created on the public.

Question Of Resources

Now, I understand that the primary function of operator groups is training and education. I also know that time and resources are limited — these groups rely largely on volunteers. Who’s going to do all this public outreach and where will the money come from?

It’s a legitimate concern. On the other hand, in this time of tight public budgets, what is more important than building public support for the clean-water profession and needed investments in facilities?

In a time when experienced operators are about to retire in large numbers, what’s more important than elevating the profession’s stature so that more young people, more military veterans and more potential career-changers are attracted to it?

What Do You Think?

Has your association considered raising its profile with a broad public outreach effort? Is it feasible to do so given your available budget and people resources? I would be interested in your impressions. Send me a note to I promise to respond, and we will share your comments with TPO readers in a future issue.  


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