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049: Getting Your Elected Officials Fired Up About Water with WaterNow Alliance

We had the opportunity to speak at the WaterNow Alliance Summit in Austin, TX last week. While there presenting our “30 ideas in 30 minutes”, we had the privilege of chatting with some members from the WaterNow Alliance Summit.

Cynthia Koehler

Cynthia Koehler is an environmental attorney and water policy expert with 25 years of experience in state and federal water advocacy. She has served as a Director of the Marin Municipal Water District Board since 2005 and was reelected in November 2018 for a 4th term. Cynthia was appointed to US EPA’s Local Government Advisory Commission (2016-2018), and serves on a number of boards and advisory councils related to environmental sustainability. She was previously the California Water Legislative Director for Environmental Defense Fund, and Legal Director for Save the Bay. Cynthia holds a BA from Pomona College, and JD and Environmental Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law.

Cooper Martin

Cooper is the Sustainable Cities Institute Director for the National League of Cities and on the  WaterNow Alliance Leadership Council. He is the NLC’s research and technical assistance expert for topics related to sustainability and climate resilience. With the help of a 2-person sustainability team, they support, inform, and celebrate city-led sustainability efforts. Additionally, Cooper helps provide strategic direction, program development, and operational support for the entire NLC Center for City Solutions.

Eric Letsinger

Eric Letsinger a member of the WaterNow Alliance Leadership Council and is the Founder and CEO of Quantified Ventures, an impact investing firm that helps clients finance specific and measurable environmental, health, and educational outcomes. He is a “tri-sector” executive, bringing 25+ years of leadership experience in government, nonprofit, and private sector organizations operating in healthcare, environment, education, and housing. He has led transformative, public-private initiatives to drive social impact in complex, cross-sector business environments including IBM, Baltimore Public Schools, Baltimore Housing Department, Cyveillance Software, PWC, and Samaritan Inns Homeless Services.

Melissa Elliott

Melissa is the Manager for Public Outreach, Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., providing strategic communications, stakeholder engagement and risk communication services to the utility and municipal sector. She previously held roles at Denver Water, as the director or public affairs and manager of water conservation, as well as, City of Aurora Public Relations Manager and Senior PIO. She’s served as chair for the public affairs council and an active member and mentor of the Public Relations Society of America. Melissa is the president-elect for the American Water Works Association.

 

Top Takeaways

Cynthia:

  1. Trust your customers, speak to them in a language they understand. You’ll create a reservoir of trust in your community.
  2. A lot of water decision-makers don’t think they are water decision-makers, but they are! Regardless of the issue that motivated them to run for office.
  3. When trying to get input from the public, there is no silver bullet answer. It’s a silver buckshot approach. Take the time to know your audience and reach them the way they want to be reached.
  4. There is incredible potential in scaling localized water systems. We should start looking at buildings like sponges.

Cooper:

  1. Investing in water on a local level isn’t new, but the challenges local governments are facing are making these investments incredibly difficult. This is especially true when considering more frequent environmental challenges such as droughts or flooding depending on where you are.
  2. “Retail education,” the face to face style, may not be the most efficient but we’ve certainly found it to be the most effective.
  3. All of us need to elevate the importance of water in our day to day work.

Eric:

  1. To address the daunting challenges we’re facing as an industry we have to begin pursuing innovation. “We’re not going to business-as-usual the challenges we’re facing.”
  2. “We have to create different ways to finance projects because no one handing public funds is awarded for choosing innovation.”

Melissa:

  1. The communication climate is so different than what it was in the past. People are paying attention now, the negative stories have long legs, they stick around longer, and we have a trust crisis. Consistent communication is the antidote.
  2. We can’t leave our elected officials behind when communicating the value of water.
  3. Water utilities need to start investing more in communication efforts. A study by the Water Research Foundation showed that only half of utilities have a PIO on staff.
  4. Doing every platform at once is not a sustainable social media strategy. Pick one, get good at it, see some success, and move from there.
  5. The “general public” is not an audience. Break it down into stakeholders based on the level of interest and level of influence.

Sponsor:

WaterNow Alliance believes that local leaders hold the keys to our future. WNA is a nonprofit network of over 400 councilmembers, mayors, water district board members, and utility management nationwide that champion sustainable, affordable, and community-based solutions to water management challenges. They are a catalyst for change and an architect for solutions. WNA helps to identify and overcome barriers, provide tools, training, project and policy support, and shares best management practices for local initiatives advancing community resilience. WNA is a forum for collaborative action through convenings and annual summits, and a network for local leaders to learn from each other.

Join this unique network of local decision makers leading the way to a healthy and resilient water future for their communities. Membership is free and open to the decision makers who vote on all things water from policy to programs to rates and who are ultimately accountable to the public. Visit waternow.org/join or email info@waternow.org


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