Sometimes Public Education Means Doing Not One Thing but Many Things Well

Georgia Water & Sewer Authority ramps up public awareness by providing multiple educational events for residents

Sometimes Public Education Means Doing Not One Thing but Many Things Well

A scarecrow in front of the Cherokee County Water & Sewer Authority’s main office delivers educational messages to visitors.

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The Cherokee County (Georgia) Water & Sewer Authority has been expanding and improving its public awareness and outreach initiatives for the past 20 years.

The offerings started as a requirement of the Little River Watershed Assessment and implementation plan. It grew over time with the influence of the North Metro Water Planning District, which has one of the most complete regional water management plans in the country, is staffed by the Atlanta Regional Commission, and includes 15 counties and 95 cities.

For its public outreach programs, the Cherokee County authority received the Georgia Association of Water Professionals Education Program of Excellence Award in 2022.

Listening to residents

The authority, based about an hour north of Atlanta, has three wastewater treatment plants: Rose Creek, Fitzgerald Creek and Riverbend, collectively permitted to treat up to 10 mgd for nearly 200,000 residents.

Public feedback led the utility to expand its activities. “Our residents really liked the offerings, but they would give us feedback afterwards about how we could improve them, and even ideas for new events they would like to see,” says Lori Forrester, public information specialist.

“We are always looking to add more programs based on public requests. An example of this is our new fish program. We have fantastic fish around here, and the educators wanted us to teach their students about the various kinds.”

The Cherokee County Parks and Recreation Association has a fish camp every summer. Forrester visits the camp, and last year provided an activity in which the children learned to identify fish in the local waters.

Diverse activities 

Other outreach programs include:

  • Storm Drain Marking. Community volunteers paint stencils on storm drains that remind residents that what goes down the drain goes directly to the streams. The stencils include a fish logo.
  • Fall Rivers Alive Cleanup. The utility takes part in this statewide cleanup of waterways. Authority staffers and volunteers annually remove about two tons of trash.
  • Teaching and tours. The authority works with educators and students on hands-on activities dealing with water and wastewater management, stormwater, water conservation, water quality, and wildlife. Staff members also give tours of water and wastewater facilities.
  • Sassafras Day Camp. This event, for Girl Scout summer camps, teaches the older scouts about water testing (temperature, pH, conductivity, alkalinity), and younger kids about nonpoint and point-source pollution through Build-A-River and Adopt-a-Stream activities.
  • Summer Thrive. Staff members work with rising freshmen from the county school district for three days, taking them to the waterways to learn about water quality. Students use supplies they made to aid in their studies.
  • Chamber Leadership. Leaders from the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce met Forrester and her colleagues at the Hollis Q. Lathem Reservoir to learn about the history, function and overall importance of the services provided by the Cherokee County authority.

Getting the word out

The events are promoted on the utility’s website and Facebook page, and by word of mouth. Staff members stay connected with community contacts such as educators and scout groups.

The staff created a scarecrow with messaging about water quality and its programs; it is displayed at community events and outside the authority offices. Forrester has a booth at the Cherokee County Fair.

“Taking our message on the road to community events has really helped us to get more public attention and awareness,” she says. “The programs have been growing in popularity. When we started them, we were reaching 3,000 to 5,000 adults and children per year; that number for 2021 was 21,345.”

Forrester is a recognized face around town: “Students who have attended our programs call me The Bug Lady. They don’t remember my name, but they remember that I taught them about the bugs and living creatures in our waterways.”


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