Evanston gets social to reach water customers

Evanston gets social to reach water customers
Lara Biggs, superintendent of construction, explains the weight of water during Evanston's Tweet Along plant tour. On the right is Dave Stoneback, director of utilities. (Photo courtesy of Evanston Utilities)

About two dozen people showed up at the Evanston (Ill.) Water Treatment Plant on Saturday, Sept. 22, for a tour of the facility that provides fresh water for 360,000 customers in six cities north of Chicago. Many more people came along for the tour, however, as Adelita Hernandez turned the live event into a virtual Twitter tour with the fourth of the Tweet Along projects she has overseen in her role as the city’s citizen engagement coordinator.

Hernandez, who works in the office of the Evanston city manager, had previously arranged Tweet Alongs during a Friday night shift at the city’s 911 dispatch center, during a town hall meeting and over the course of 17 hours at the Evanston Fire Department. She says the social media events are an effective way to give Evanston residents a better view of how their city operates.

Because she was the person at the heart of the project Saturday morning, Hernandez has a hands-on knowledge of the information and the photos shared during the virtual tour of the water treatment and distribution system operated by Evanston Utilities.

“There was so much to learn and so much information we needed to share,” she says. “I’ve never had a tour of the water plant, so I was learning right along with our Twitter followers.”

Hernandez said her favorite part of the tour was the ability to see the evolution in the size and efficiency of the filters used to convert water pumped out of Lake Michigan and treated for distribution to Evanston and five of its neighbors in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Hernandez didn’t conduct the tour so much as she relayed it to Twitter followers as members of the utilities team offered their expertise while talking to the people touring in person.

“They came in to give the tour as a service to the residents,” she says. “Everybody was really helpful and they came in special on their day off just for this.”

The water workers who were introduced during the tour included director of utilities Dave Stoneback, water production superintendent Kevin Lookis, city chemist Elanore Meade, superintendent of construction Lara Biggs, engineering associate Alec Schueneman and division chief of distribution and sewer Jim Nelson.

For most of the tour, Hernandez used her iPad to post Tweets for the people who came along for the virtual tour. She also used her tablet to take and post photos along the way as the tour moved from the pumps that were moving the water out of the plant and into the distribution system all the way to Evanston’s historic head house on the shore of Lake Michigan where intake pumps draw raw lake water in for treatment. She served as the eyes for those taking the live tour because visitors are now allowed inside the head house.

Although it has been difficult to gauge the exact number of people following the Tweet Alongs, Hernandez believes they have been effective in the effort to better educate the public about city operations. “Our followers on Twitter have really jumped since we started. We were less than a thousand, but now we are past 3,000 followers and we think that our Tweet Alongs are a key part of that.”

Check out the Tweets and photos from Saturday’s Tweet Along


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