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62: The NACWA Mashup: Talking Comms with some NACWA Super Stars

We had the honor of being the luncheon keynote at NACWA’s StratComm conference in June 2019, and while we were there, got to interview some of their amazing board members and committee members.

Top Takeaways

  1. Lisa Van Riper brings her private sector marketing experience to the water table, stressing the importance of branding our “national treasure” of water. She explains that branding matters in the water industry because its how we communicate to customers that their bill is an investment in the public health and the environment of their community.
  2. Bess McCoy shares on the role of stormwater in public communication on flooding, as well as the value of water.It’s important to communicate the importance of stormwater issues that promote public safety and preparedness.
  3. Tom Sigmund talks internal comms, the manager’s role, and encourages us to simply “make it weird, until its not”.
  4. Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells discusses the impact of the 50% anniversary of the cuyahoga river fire and the significance for the clean water act and NEORSD. She also touched on their approach to communication—the 3Ts—Timely, Transparent, and Thoughtful.

Show Notes:

Lisa Van Riper:

[6:00] Branding is a starting point for shaping your messages.

[8:50] I’ve only been in water for 5 years, and before that I had no idea what a treasure this industry was. We are a national treasure, and nobody knows that.

[11:30] We have an educational fence on our pump station with different interactives.

[17:00] A brand is about the personality, the mantra, the architecture, the messaging, the positioning…

[18:30] We try to unite everyone around the brand, and did this with internal town hall meetings. 

[19:30] Renew and transform are very similar.

Bess McCoy:

[26:00] How are you communicating about flooding issues to your community?

[28:00] We knew we were in a position to inform and educate, and that’s our job.

[28:30] What is some of the public outreach you’ve been doing around advance awareness for flooding?

[29:30] Real estate agents have been great partners in getting our message out.

[32:00] what is the value of NAQWA?

Tom Sigmund:

[34:00] How are you communicating about the transition from a wastewater utility to a producer of “new” water?

[36:30] We realized our biggest impact would be outside the fence.

[37:30] Starting initially as an engineer, what made you a believer in communication?

[44:20] The first step in terms of internal communication, is just start- “make it weird until its not”

[46:00] NAQWA is the best representation in our industry both for legislation and regulation. 

Kyle Dreyfus Wells:

[47:30] How does the story of the cuyahoga river fire shape perception and environmental policy in ohio?

[49:10] The story that resonates for me for NEORDS is the success of the clean water act, and how the river shows that.

[50:40] The concept of service brought me to the water sector.

[51:30] We have a burden to make up for the mistakes of the past.

[53:20] It is leadership’s role to make sure people are empowered to give the difficult answer.

[54:00] Check your terms.

[55:30] When it comes to social media, you have no choice.


Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells—is CEO of the North East Ohio Regional Sewer District. As CEO she oversees the operation of one of the largest clean-water agencies in Ohio, a district that treats 90 billion gallons of water every year thanks to the work of more than 750 employees. She works closely with seven Trustees and nine directors to ensure efficient management of hundreds of miles of sewer and stream networks, a multi-billion-dollar 25-year Project Clean Lake program, and a regional wet-weather strategy for the health of Lake Erie and more than one million residents.

Before becoming CEO, Ms. Dreyfuss-Wells coordinated the District’s watershed management, including the Regional Stormwater Management Program and the application of stormwater control measures to reduce combined sewer overflows under the District’s Green Infrastructure Policy. She is past chair of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Stormwater Management Committee and the One Water Council of the US Water Alliance.  She serves on the NACWA Board and chairs the District 1 Natural Resources Assistance Council for the Ohio Public Works Commission’s Clean Ohio Conservation Program.  In 2012, Ms. Dreyfuss-Wells received the Stormwater Professional of the Year award from the Ohio Stormwater Association and the NACWA President’s Award.

Ms. Dreyfuss-Wells graduated summa cum laude from The Ohio State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology. She earned master’s degrees with honors in both Public Affairs and Environmental Science at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Samoa. Before joining the District, she was Director of the Chagrin River Watershed Partners, Inc. 

Tom Sigmund—is the Executive Director of NEW Water, the brand of the Green Bay Metropolitan Sewerage District, where he has been since 2007. NEW Water is a regional clean water utility serving 230,000 people in 15 municipalities providing wholesale conveyance and treatment services. NEW Water has 99 employees and an annual budget of $42 million. NEW Water expresses its attitude of viewing the material sent to its facilities as valuable resources to be recovered and reused and a commitment to protecting its most valuable resource, water.  

Mr. Sigmund is a Professional Engineer in Wisconsin, Illinois and Ohio. He is a member of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and serves on the Executive Committee of their Board of Directors. 

Mr. Sigmund has a MS and BS in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Bess McCoy—is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD), serving on a team of four in the district’s Public Affairs Division. 

Driven by her passion for public engagement and government transparency, Bess leads MSD’s employee communication and municipal communication efforts. She is responsible for engaging more than 1,000 employees and 88 municipalities in MSD’s efforts to protect the public health and water environment. Bess also serves as an official spokesperson for MSD. The “positive face” of the district, she is the primary representative for MSD’s proactive media engagement including their educational campaigns and stories highlighting their preventative activities.

MSD is two utilities in one; it is a wastewater utility and a stormwater utility. With over 9,000 miles of sewer lines and seven wastewater treatment plants, MSD is the fourth largest sewer system in the United States. MSD serves more than 1.3 million customers in a 520 square-mile service area that includes all of St. Louis City and 90% of St. Louis County.

Prior to joining MSD, Bess served as the Public Information Officer for the City of Creve Coeur, a municipality in St. Louis County. She also spent four years working in the advertising industry where she specialized in online marketing and strategic research. A lifelong St. Louis area resident, Bess earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from Saint Louis University.

Lisa Van Riper- is Director of Enterprise Communications at AlexRenew, the advanced water resource recovery facility for Alexandria, Virginia, and parts of Fairfax County. She established the communications department for AlexRenew and led the rebranding of the organization as Alexandria’s Water Transformers. 

Prior to AlexRenew, Van Riper was Assistant Vice President, University Communications at the University of Richmond in Richmond, Virginia. She turned around the communications department to better serve campus partners and led innovation to increase visibility for the university, including tripling media placements, developing a social media program, and creating an online recruitment advertising strategy. 

Van Riper also worked at CarMax, Inc. as Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs and Store Marketing, where she established the communications practice and CarMax Foundation. She also led grand openings and store experience marketing, and the program to secure a place for CarMax on the Fortune “100 Best Companies to Work for” list. 

During her career, Van Riper and the teams she has led have won more than 45 awards for communications excellence from communications, university, and water industry associations.

Van Riper is Vice-Chair of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) Strategic Communications Committee.


This episode is powered by Rogue Water, the public communication company founded by the H2duO, Stephanie Zavala and Arianne Shipley. Rogue Water is dedicated to revolutionizing the water industry—one person, one story, one experience at a time. We are award-winning communication professionals with a decade of experience working in water utilities moving the needle forward in communication, outreach, and education to build stronger relationships between the water sector and the public it serves. These relationships serve as the foundation needed to make the necessary changes that create a sustainable water future for all. Are you ready to go Rogue?

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