APWA takes active role in new education and outreach program

Julia Anastasio
Senior Manager of Government Affairs
APWA Washington office

At its annual conference, WEFTech, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) recently introduced a new education and public outreach program dedicated to the vision that safe, sound and sustained water and wastewater infrastructure systems are vital to our communities. As part of this effort, WEF gathered a national and grassroots coalition of water and wastewater organizations, and business, environmental and public health professionals dedicated to helping communities envision, build, maintain and improve life-sustaining water and wastewater systems. The goal of the Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen(tm) program is to help communities help themselves as they educate consumers and decision makers on

  • The value of water in sustaining and enhancing life,
  • The role of water infrastructure in delivering clean, safe water to homes and businesses,
  • The role of wastewater infrastructure in cleaning water and safely returning it to the environment to be reused,
  • The role of water and wastewater infrastructure as a valuable community asset and
  • The importance of water infrastructure investment.

The earth is the only known planet with water. Humans, who can survive a month without food, die after a week without water. Most of us are not aware of the vast water infrastructure network and public works professionals necessary to provide, process and treat our water. Water is the basic element for a prosperous community and the basic element for a good quality of life. Clean water fuels the economy by contributing to agriculture, industry, manufacturing, power generation and transportation. Communities across the country benefit from water-based recreation, tourism and commercial fishing which provide jobs and commerce to an area. Most people agree that protecting the quality of the nation's waters is a priority.

Each year our nation's wastewater treatment plants prevent billions of tons of pollutants from reaching America's waterways. The benefits of water infrastructure are clear. Today most Americans can turn on the tap or flush the toilet without giving a second thought. The Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen program aims to change this attitude by educating communities about the vast infrastructure network and the public works professionals who strive to provide clean, reliable water to their communities. Over time the program is designed to motivate the general public, ratepayers and elected officials to invest in water and wastewater infrastructure to preserve and provide for their communities.

Building on the momentum created by WEFTech, WEF began forming the Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen national coalition in December to lead in the development of a national program strategy focusing on the importance of water and wastewater infrastructure systems. The National Alliance Program Committee met to discuss the program's vision and goals, the appropriate audience, the role of the Program Committee, message development and deployment, and media outreach strategies.

Because this program is such an important step in increasing public awareness about what it takes to provide clean, safe and reliable water to a community, it was important that APWA participate. APWA member Cora Jackson-Fossett was nominated by APWA President Bob Freudenthal to serve as the association's representative. She traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the inaugural meeting of the group. Ms. Fossett is the Public Affairs Director for the Department of Public Works, City of Los Angeles, CA. She has been a member of APWA since 1999 and currently serves as the chair of APWA's Diversity Committee. She will represent APWA and its members on the Program Committee as the Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen public outreach strategy is further refined and developed. The practical experience Ms. Fossett brings to the table will provide valuable insight into how best to communicate the Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen message to local communities. After the meeting, Ms. Fossett was very enthusiastic about the program and believes that the message of the National Alliance is vital and will help public works officials educate the communities they serve.

The outreach program is designed to increase public awareness and understanding first, then motivation to act over time. To achieve this result the program will use a storyline rollout strategy of delivering program messages with a focus each quarter on one of the following:

  • Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen,
  • Water is Health,
  • Water is Prosperity,
  • Water Brings Happiness,
  • Infrastructure Delivers, Invest Wisely.

The Program Committee envisions national communications tools including bill stuffers, an informational website, opinion/editorial articles, PowerPoint presentations, and brochures containing national messages and facts delivered directly to target audiences.

These communications tools will be developed at state and local government and even metropolitan levels and will include messages and statistics to be delivered to target audiences by alliance members and/or individual utilities. The rollout will be coordinated among outreach program participants so that all activities within the quarterly push are synchronized and the messages delivered nationally are echoed across the country. The Program Committee also discussed utilizing pilot projects to help build momentum and success stories for the future. Local communities will volunteer to participate in the pilot program and will work hand-in-hand with the National Alliance in developing and implementing a local outreach program promoting the Water is Life & Infrastructure Makes it Happen message.

The National Alliance is striving to make it easy for local communities to help themselves by providing support, guidance, outreach materials and tools to build a powerful and effective message that will inform and motivate opinion leaders, ratepayers, the general public and elected officials. The National Alliance will continue to meet to further refine the program and messages. A formal public launch of the program and materials is anticipated in the spring of 2006. For more information, please visit www.waterislife.org.

Julia Anastasio can be reached at (202) 218-6750 or janastasio@apwa.net.