How to best communicate the value of water with the public and customers was among the topics that water professionals from across the country gathered to discuss at the American Water Works Association’s 2012 Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE 12), from June 10-14 in Dallas. The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s (DWSD) Customer Outreach Program along with efforts by other large utilities were featured at the conference.
Mary Alfonso, Public Affairs Manager for DWSD, moderated the sessions on educating the public and co-presented “Managing and Sustaining a Customer Outreach Program” with Teresa Weed Newman of Project Innovations. Drawing on DWSD’s 14-year history of customer outreach, they shared how DWSD’s outreach program is structured and sustained as well as the positive results it has yielded for DWSD and its suburban wholesale customers.
The strength of DWSD’s outreach program lies in the joint participation of DWSD leadership, suburban wholesale customers and stakeholders. The effort encompasses a Water Technical Advisory Committee, a Wastewater Steering Committee and 7 work groups that focus on the operational and management aspects of water delivery and wastewater collection. Activities are facilitated by a third party to encourage open communication and assist with project management. An online outreach portal serves as a resource for these groups to access working documents, meeting summaries and reports generated by the work groups. The portal also provides information to the public including “Operation Clean Water” articles that highlight how DWSD and its suburban wholesale customers manage water and sewer infrastructure to protect public health and the environment.