Engaging the Public on Drinking Water Issues

From plant tours to promoting short educational videos on social media, utilities did a variety of activities to mark Drinking Water Week
Engaging the Public on Drinking Water Issues
El Paso Water promoted its upcoming festival, as well as Drinking Water Week, on Friday, May 5, by attending a game for the city's minor league baseball team. (Photo by El Paso Water)

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Last week was Drinking Water Week, a time when many utilities do some public outreach and educate their customers on what it takes to bring clean water to the tap.

Here’s what a few utilities around the country did to mark the occasion.

Tours and Freebies

Plant tours are a common activity for utilities, as they provide the public with a behind-the-scenes look and practice that principle of “showing” rather than “telling.”

For example, in Georgia, the Clayton County Water Authority held an open house Saturday, May 13. Tours of the authority’s Terry R. Hicks Water Production Plant were held every 30 minutes, and staff was on hand to answer questions and share information about the authority’s Newman Wetlands Center, and other items like the importance of finding and fixing leaks. The authority also had its Tap on the Go portable water tank set up at the open house.

Utilities also use other community events as an opportunity to get some facetime with the public and provide a little education along with a free giveaway.

In California, the Arcata Environmental Services Department set up shop on Saturday, May 13, at the local farmer’s market. Entries from a poster contest were on display, showcasing information on items such as rainwater harvesting, water conservation, irrigation and sea level rise. People could also participate in the Fun Fact Quest and earn stamps toward a prize by answering water-related questions. Prizes included T-shirts, aluminum water bottles, and stainless steel zero-waste cups.

Art Contests

Many utilities include art contests for children among their Drinking Water Week activities. The city of Evanston, Illinois, does this annually for third-grade students with the public doing online voting. This year, winners received beach tokens for the summer, a plaque, and their artwork displayed at the public library during Drinking Water Week.


Texas' El Paso Water is an example of a utility that decided to create a larger public event around Drinking Water Week. 

For 18 years, the utility has held an annual festival featuring dozens of booths with interactive displays, experiments and games. The utility has changed up the timing of the event over the years, and this year decided to have it coincide with Drinking Water Week. On Saturday, May 13, the utility held the festival at its TecH2O Center where 42 different booths were set up covering a variety of topics, including water harvesting demonstrations and Rio Grande flow displays.

And to kick off Drinking Water Week, as well as promote the festival, El Paso Water employees attended a game of the Chihuahuas, the city’s minor league baseball team, the week before where they gave free water bottles to the first 2,500 fans, and had the utility’s mascot, Willie the Water Drop, on hand for photos. They also produced a video that played on the stadium’s jumbotron.

Educational Videos

Short educational videos are popular among utilties for getting a message out to the public. Some utilities celebrated Drinking Water Week that way by creating videos that they then touted on social media.

The San Diego Public Utilities Department partnered with University of San Diego communication studies students in the fall of 2014 to develop materials to educate San Diegans about Pure Water San Diego, a multi-year program with the goal of providing one-third of San Diego's water supply locally by 2035. The utility decided to use Drinking Water Week as an opportunity to showcase one of the educational videos that came out of that partnership.

What are the methods your utility has found most effective for engaging the public? Comment below or email kyle.rogers@colepublishing.com.


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