By Kevin Westerling,
Societal well-being is hugely dependent on a clean and available water supply, which is becoming increasingly dependent on community engagement and education.
Across the board, we have learned a lot over these past few years about the value of effective communication — sometimes the hard way, by doing it wrong (see COVID confusion, social media “news” feeds, political idealogues/demagogues, etc.). To elicit public support and action, you must first garner the trust that comes through honest motives and information. But as data accumulate and information is updated, guidance can change. Thus, it’s also very important to be nimble with your messaging. Honesty doesn’t mean you have to be right, but you do have to be forthright. If delivered in good faith, your message is received with goodwill.
The water industry, too, has had a difficult time lately. Old pipes need repairing, lead pipes need replacing, PFAS is proliferating, source water is receding, floods are increasing, and the labor force is retiring. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Remedying these issues will take coordination, cooperation, and (of course) money. Our water and wastewater utilities, as capable as they are, do not work in a vacuum. Administrative and operational duties are handled exceptionally well — so smoothly as to go unnoticed — but public attention and support are needed to solve society’s shared water issues. It is our job to remind consumers of the minor miracle that happens every time they turn on the tap, to educate them on the work that goes into it, and to foster respect and admiration for the process and the product so that they support efforts to maintain a clean, sustainable, and equitable water supply.
This year at WEFTEC, the Water Environment Federation enlisted Shama Hyder, an award-winning brand strategist, global speaker, and bestselling author, to provide the keynote address at the WEFTEC Opening General Session. The invitation to speak in front of the largest annual gathering of water and wastewater professionals in North America confirms the importance of communication to meet industry goals.
“The water sector is grappling with issues that are challenging to communicate about, such as rate increases, PFAS, and biosolids,” said WEF President Jamie Eichenberger, adding that it’s imperative for water utilities and companies to engage frequently and effectively with stakeholders.
Hyder is the founder and CEO of Zen Media and has been called the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by FastCompany.com. Considering her age and expertise, she is uniquely qualified to address the challenge of replacing baby boomer workers in the wake of the ongoing “silver tsunami” of retirees.
“There is a critical need to build a workforce that is younger, more diverse, and with new skills,” noted Eichenberger. “As a millennial, Shama will provide perspective on how the water sector can use branding and marketing to attract the generation to work in the sector.”
And, naturally, Hyder leans into digital resources, which are integral to improving nearly all utility operations. Those in attendance at WEFTEC (Oct. 8-12 in New Orleans) are sure to gather plenty of information and inspiration from Hyder, fellow presenters, exhibitors, and attendees to help solve our pressing and mounting water challenges.
Water Online can also help in that regard. The latest edition of Water Innovations features articles on technology and sustainability adoption trends, the importance of utility leadership for continued water security, the use of AI-enabled pipeline asset management and IoT sensors to reduce water waste, as well as introductions to new wastewater-treatment and risk-management techniques.
To borrow the phrase from our national infrastructure initiative, we can Build Back Better — but only through shared commitment, collaboration, and trusted communication. Let’s get moving, together.