Runners Chase Leaks for 2014 Fix-A-Leak Week

Runners Chase Leaks for 2014 Fix-A-Leak Week
The 2013 Water Drop Dash in Roswell, Ga., included more than 300 runners in 2013 along with 400 attendees at a post-race water fair.

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For a homeowner, the slow, methodical dripping of a kitchen sink in the middle of the night is merely an annoyance. For water utilities and municipalities, that same faucet represents a loss of revenue and a loss of resource — to the tune of 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. And so, with the EPA-sponsored Fix-a-Leak Week quickly approaching, we turn our collective eyes toward public education and the opportunity to discuss all things leak-worthy, be they toilets, faucets, showerheads or irrigation systems. 

This year, WaterSense and its partners celebrate the fifth annual event March 18 to 24 with the theme, “Chasing Leaks,” which has spurred several organizations throughout the country to organize fun runs and timed race events. The races, which range from a family-friendly 5K in Charlottesville, Va., to the Peachtree Qualifier Water Drop Dash in Roswell, Ga., take the often mundane topic of leaks and turn it into a day crammed full of family activities, sponsored prizes and loads of educational moments. 

Mary Lu Nunley, public information specialist for the City of Phoenix, says the One For Water 4-Miler in Arizona originated during a discussion on how to make the week more interesting.

“We decided we were going to do something that was a little more dramatic,” she says. “We were really looking for something that would draw press attention and get some excitement going.” 

What began four years ago for Arizona has turned into a timed event with more than 200 racers and another 300 to 400 attendees. The race, which is started by a running toilet mascot (an actual runner in costume), ends with a family fun fair that includes educational booths, children’s activities, leak-related prizes such as gift certificates to home improvement stores and more. 

“We’ve developed a loyal following,” Nunley says. “We treat the race like any other race that anyone else would hold, but we have this fun element. It draws press and draws people. People keep coming back.” 

Organizers in Roswell are after the same reaction. 

“We saw that Arizona had a race, and we were already having Fix-A-Leak Week. We wanted something that would bring all of the utilities together,” says Lora Amedu, senior program specialist at the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. “We’re reaching a different audience. Everything is family-oriented, but it brings in a different type of people.” 

Amedu says a race event expands the utility’s outreach attracts a different audience than typical education events. 

The Water Drop Dash included more than 300 runners in 2013 along with 400 attendees at the post-race water fair. Top runners received gift cards to Home Depot to buy WaterSense products. The event also included rain barrel and water bottle giveaways. Amedu says any water utility is welcome to include a booth in the post-race festival. 

During the festival, all games, activities and giveaways, such as a water conservation kit, are water-related. 

But events like these include big budgets and a lot of planning. The Arizona and Georgia events both cost around $15,000 to $20,000, although most of that comes from sponsors. Their advice: Secure sponsors, and secure them early. 

“We’ve got the race down pretty well now,” Nunley says. “We’re down to six to seven months to plan this event. Our first year probably took about a year to plan. Finding the sponsors is probably the hardest part to getting started.” 

Nunley offers some tips to utilities planning Fix-A-Leak races: 

  • Keep your focus. “We stick with the theme of fixing leaks,” she says. “We’re there for education, not to sell things. Keep the integrity of the theme.”
  • Get on TV. Nunley recommends local morning talk shows, which especially love mascots. The Arizona race has brought Flo, the WaterSense mascot and the race’s Leaky Loo McFlapper toilet mascot to interviews. 
  • Plan ahead. Get save-the-date cards out as early as possible, and include them in other racing bags.
  • Sponsors, sponsors, sponsors. Whether it’s local government support or corporate sponsors such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, secure them early to offset costs. 

“It’s a lot of coordination,” Amedu says. “When you figure our size and our region, it definitely takes a lot. It’s extremely detailed.” 

But the bonus to such events is immense. Races are high-profile public education opportunities. And they’re pretty fun, to boot. As the Arizona website states, “running toilets are only funny when they’re mascots.” Hopefully, these races will lead to many leaks fixed and many gallons of water saved.



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