Public TV one of several approaches Indiana utility uses to promote expansive CSO plan

A $729 million multi-project CSO control plan spanning two decades requires some public education. But what do you do when people aren’t attending informational meetings? You go to their homes.

That’s essentially what Indiana’s Evansville Water and Sewer Utility did to educate citizens about its federally mandated CSO plan, which involves new sewers and pumping stations; cleaning up and reducing the size of an unsightly, odorous slough now used to capture CSOs; improvements to wastewater treatment plants; and several green infrastructure installations.

“At first we tried the conventional public meeting approach,” says utilities director Allen Mounts.

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But it wasn’t effective.

“At best we had 15 people at a meeting,” he recalls, “and in one case there were only two. We said, ‘Guys, this isn’t working. It’s not a good vehicle. We need something that will reach a larger audience.’”

The utility engaged WNIN, the local public TV station to see if a virtual town hall meeting could be arranged.

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“They loved the idea,” Mounts says. “We worked with our PR firm to develop talking points, and we hired a local news anchor to act as moderator. We selected three people from the utility who could serve as subject matter experts.”

Mounts says the show opened with the moderator asking the panel questions people might ask about the project. Then phone lines were opened up so callers could ask questions. Questions also came through social media. Viewers could see the questions on the screen.

“It was more expensive than holding the traditional public meeting,” says Mounts. “But it was much more effective. With meetings, people are working, so you have issues with time and place.”

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He says the TV program was re-broadcast several times, and was also posted on the station’s website so that people could watch it at any time.

In addition to the virtual town meeting, Evansville used most of the more traditional approaches to get the word out about the CSO plan.

“We promoted the plan in billing statements, and our local newspaper and broadcast media have been very helpful,” Mounts says.

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The utility has also successfully promoted a Green Infrastructure Participation Plan with downtown property owners as part of the CSO effort. The plan provides a 20-cents-per-gallon incentive for private property owners to install green solutions to urban runoff.

“It’s been effective,” Mounts says. “There’s a lot of interest. In fact we have had more demand than we have capacity to fund the program.”

Read more about Evansville’s CSO control plan in this story featured in the April issue of Municipal Sewer & Water magazine.

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