A Recycled Water 101 Campaign Earns State and National WateReuse Association Awards of Excellence

A California district’s recycled water outreach campaign includes a video that highlights the roles of staff members.

A Recycled Water 101 Campaign Earns State and National WateReuse Association Awards of Excellence

The Recycled Water 101 campaign underscored many uses for the water, including making ice at the Great Park Ice and FivePoint Arena.

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Irvine Ranch Water District has been a pioneer in recycled water for more than 50 years.

Upon finding that many residents did not understand this rich resource, the district staff created a Recycled Water 101 campaign, winner of WateReuse Association state and national awards of excellence in public outreach and communication.

Recycled water makes up about 27% of the district’s water supply, irrigating 85% of local parks, golf courses, college campuses, homeowners association properties, and other public and commercial spaces. It is also used in cooling towers, and for construction site dust control, composting and concrete production.

Purple pipes

The district has used recycled water since the 1960s. As the area grew, so did the recycled water infrastructure. Today the system is among the most robust and technologically advanced in the nation, providing an important drought-proof resource for the community.

In the 1980s the district pioneered the purple pipe used to distinguish recycled water from drinking water systems. One of the district’s directors was colorblind, and purple was the only color he could recognize. Since then, purple has become the universal standard for recycled water piping. This history was included in the education campaign.

Asian community

Orange County has a large and growing Asian community that represents 43% of its residents, many with English as their second language. It was critical to consider this when creating the Recycled Water 101 campaign. Many of these residents live in newer communities that use recycled water for irrigation. The campaign materials were created in English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Farsi. Translators were available at in-person events.

After discussing campaign elements, the team created a three-minute video explaining the recycled water process, using real staff members to tell the story. The video was used in all campaign tactics including:

-Live speaker series

-Community workshops

-Media tours

-Print and digital articles in newsletters

-Social media

The campaign was well under way before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so for that period the staff repurposed campaign messaging for digital platforms, which remain integral components of the district’s outreach today.

Metrics and measures

The campaign was a big success. While the main goal was to increase awareness of the benefits of recycled water and the district’s history behind it, there have been other outcomes. For example:

-100% of survey respondents are more aware of the recycled water process and its benefits.

-10 articles appeared in Asian publications for over 965,000 impressions.

-31,000 people viewed the video.

-28 in-person presentations were made, reaching 720 people.

-New lines of communication were established with Chinese- and Korean-speaking communities.

-A library of translated materials was created for present and future use. 

Family affair

Staff members who starred in the video wrote some of their own lines. “The nice thing about the video is that we introduced the public to the recycled water process, to the value of recycled water — and to our staff, who are passionate about their work,” says John Fabris, public affairs manager.

Another video star was Avery, the toddler daughter of the film crew’s project manager. Even as a baby, Avery was a superfan of the district’s water, preferring it to milk, juice or any other beverage. She stars at the end of the video, running through the final scene, lured by a sound technician offering Froot Loops cereal off camera.

“Never underestimate the power that a light-hearted approach can give to a campaign,” says Deniene Rivenburg, public affairs specialist. “It makes for a more impactful and memorable campaign when you make it fun.”   


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