2020 Environmental Communications Awards Competition Winner
Gaining Community Support for a Regional Recycled Water Program
Entrant: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California
Person in Charge: Susan Sims, Group Manager, External Affairs
Co-Authors: Carolyn Schaffer and Rupam Soni
To ensure a reliable water supply for the future, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is investing in a Regional Recycled Water Program that will purify wastewater to produce high quality water that can be reused throughout the region. It could eventually become one of the largest advanced water treatment plants in the world and provide Southern California with a local, drought-proof water source.
The program has three significant outreach challenges:
- a large diverse region with some areas having little experience with recycled water;
- use of a new treatment train incorporating membrane bioreactors; and
- potential direct potable reuse. Metropolitan has an extensive outreach program to gain public support.
At the center of the outreach effort is the Regional Recycled Water Advanced Purification Center, a demonstration facility which features educational exhibits, an interactive learning center, and a robust tour program that provides visitors of all ages with an opportunity to learn about the facility and the importance of a recycled water supply. In addition, a dynamic website, extensive social media effort, presentations, special events, and press coverage have garnered strong engagement reaching over 400,000 people during 2019.
Metropolitan has a diverse service area covering 5,200 square miles and 19 million people in Southern California. Target audiences for outreach include:
- Residents and Business
- Labor, Civic and Environmental Groups
- Industry Experts
- Elected/Appointed Officials and Staff
- Schools and Universities
- Wholesale and retail water agencies
The goals of this outreach effort are:
- Create awareness and inform target audiences of the program and the importance of recycled water;
- Engage and educate audiences by providing clear and concise information that is relevant, informative and interesting; and
- Gain support for the Regional Recycled Water Program from key stakeholders and the public.
Objectives and Strategies
Metropolitan's approach is to engage as many people as possible to create awareness and support of the program.
Demonstration Facility Tour, Learning Center and Exhibits
Vital to the outreach effort is the Regional Recycled Water Advanced Purification Center, a 0.5-mgd demonstration facility. The Center began operating in fall 2019 and provides tours to gain public understanding and support of the project. It includes a learning center to welcome engage guests with educational exhibits. Visitors receive an introductory presentation followed by a walking tour of the Center. They learn more about the purification process through an interactive learning experience that includes displays, handouts, water samples, and photo opportunities.
Schools are an important target audience. Students from elementary schools to colleges visit the facility to learn about their water supply, recycled water, and water quality. For many, this is their first introduction to water issues, and many become interested in pursuing water careers.
Grand Opening Event
In October 2019, Metropolitan hosted a grand opening event which attracted 300 participants including elected officials, community leaders, technical experts, and program partners. Several distinguished guests such as Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, California State Water Resources Control Board Chair Joaquin Esquivel, and Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board Chair Irma Muñoz attended and spoke of the importance of this program for the region. The event received strong press coverage and was promoted the program to Southern Californians.
The Program's easy-to-navigate website serves as a hub for information with a wealth of resources from educational videos to technical reports.
Social Media and E-newsletter
To promote online engagement, updates are posted once or twice per week on Metropolitan's Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts using #recycledwater. Updates are also included in Metropolitan's monthly e-newsletter, Water Tomorrow.
Metropolitan staff presents to business organizations, environmental groups, community meetings, at conferences and other venues to provide information to target audiences.
Press and Media Coverage
Metropolitan is a highly respected voice for the media on water issues, ensuring they have complete information about the program and its importance to Southern California's water future. Press releases are distributed as needed. A variety of media outlets have covered this program, informing and influencing their audiences and local citizens.
In 2019, Metropolitan had 4,500 in-person engagements and 400,000 online engagements by using the tools listed above. Highlights for 2019 are presented below:
- Fifty-five tours were provided and 1,500 visitors toured the demonstration facility. Survey results showed 100% of participants were satisfied or very satisfied with their tour experience and would recommend the tour to others Furthermore, 99% were supportive of using recycled water as a new drinking water source.
- Social media posts on the Program are well-received; they are shared and on average have double the amount of views as other Metropolitan posts. They received approximately 400,000 impressions.
- The website attracted 5,300 users.
- A total of 45 presentations were given to 3,000 people.
- Thousands of printed materials were distributed and videos had hundreds of views on Metropolitan's website and social media platforms.
- News coverage of the program was featured in regional newspapers including the Daily Breeze, Orange County Register and other Southern California News Group publications; Vietnamese television station Nguoi Viet; ACWA's California H2O Series' Urban Innovation video; and the Persons of Infrastructure blog. Articles were also included in the Water Desalination Report, a sustainable living insert that was included in major newspapers, and other publications.