Water-Wise Wednesdays, Splash Into Spring: Just Two of This District's Outreach Initiatives

A California water district sweeps up four public relations awards for its community outreach and education initiatives.

Water-Wise Wednesdays, Splash Into Spring: Just Two of This District's Outreach Initiatives

Kids inspect a display of different water meters during a Splash into Spring event.

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Water-Wise Wednesdays. Succulent Sundays. Splash into Spring.

These are a few of the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District’s outreach programs that won awards last year from the Public Relations Society of America’s Inland Empire Chapter. The programs’ objectives range from promoting water conservation indoors and outdoors to building customer support for a new method of charging customers for service.

Based in Lake Elsinore, California, the district serves some 155,000 people in a 97-square-mile area that includes three wastewater treatment plants with a total capacity of 9.7 mgd. The district received three Polaris awards (first place) and one Capella Award (second place) from the Public Relations Society of America chapter.

Marketing campaign

Because its service is prone to drought, the district continually promotes water conservation and encourages its residents to take part. The Being Water Wise – Easy as 1, 2, 3 program gives customers conservation tips.

The district put in water-saving landscaping and vegetation at the city baseball stadium that’s home to the minor league Lake Elsinore Storm and installed the watering system. In light of that, the staff decided to partner with the team to help get the campaign’s message out.

District staff members worked with the team mascot, Thunder, and posted water-saving tips on the Jumbotron during the games. They also passed out water-saving devices such as hose shut-off nozzles, faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. The campaign lasted the entire five-month baseball season; it earned a Polaris Award.

Social media

The district was already active on Facebook and Twitter but wanted to widen its outreach to a younger audience. Instagram is more popular among millennials and is photo-centric. The staff saw it as a perfect platform to promote the utility’s water-saving landscape initiative.

They created Water-Wise Wednesdays and Succulent Sundays to post photos of residents’ yards that were transformed from grass to water-conserving landscapes. Since 70% of its water is used outdoors, the district wanted to make younger people buying homes aware that these landscapes have curb appeal while using less water. As of last February, the district had 300 followers on Instagram. This effort received a Polaris Award.

Special events

The district had held one or two Water-Wise Workshops per year but increased the frequency to five or six per year because of the events’ popularity. Workshops are held on Saturday mornings and last two to three hours. Topics include water conservation, irrigation and composting.

Attendees receive handbooks on transforming yards from grass to lower-water-use landscapes. Community partners such as Master Gardeners and a water wholesaler have given presentations. For rural customers in fire-prone areas, the district added a firescaping class that describes plants that can stop or slow the spread of wildfires. This program received a Capella Award.

Community relations

The utility had been charging a uniform rate sewer user fee to all residents, but after a rate study, the leadership decided that rates would better reflect usage if based on household size: It was critical for heads of those households to know about the change.

The district reached out to residents through billing inserts, mailings, training for customer service personnel, social media and community meetings. The campaign went on for a year, giving customers ample time to ask questions about the change and why it was necessary. As a result, the new rate system was well received. This effort earned a Polaris Award.

Another district program, in its ninth year, is a Splash into Spring event that attracts about 900 residents. All departments are involved in the three-hour free event. It includes large maintenance and sewer cleaning trucks on display, a narrated tour by wastewater treatment plant operators, a leak detection and prevention display, and a water hydrant activity for the kids. Residents receive advice on landscaping and outdoor water conservation tips along with refreshments and water-saving giveaways.

Progressive leadership

“Feedback from the residents on our transparency and education has been great, and the customers really enjoy the events,” says Bonnie Woodrome, community affairs supervisor. “We are a leading-edge company, and our leaders and board are a very forward-moving group. We are able to create these programs and submit them for awards because of their support and encouragement for promoting water-saving efforts in our community.”  


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