| Nevada water podcast engages consumers with wit, science and storytelling
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Nevada water podcast engages consumers with wit, science and storytelling

Ever wonder what happens to crumbled concrete from imploded Las Vegas casinos?

Bronson Mack and Crystal Zuelke on podcast“We like to blow up all the old casinos and hotels,” joked Crystal Zuelke on a recent episode of the Water Smarts podcast. “But they’re not really gone. The rubble that came from several of these hotels was recycled and reused and now lines the banks of the Las Vegas Wash, which helps us control the flow of the water that moves through there. And as you know, the Las Vegas Wash plays an essential role in our water resources here in Las Vegas.” (Pictured right, podcasters Bronson Mack and Crystal Zuelke)

Zuelke and Bronson Mack, both communications professionals at Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), co-host a new podcast called Water Smarts, aimed at educating customers about water. They mix engaging anecdotes with informative lessons about conservation, watershed protection, water quality, infrastructure, and much more, dishing up stories that even the most water-savvy listeners will learn from. 

“Podcasts are a growing communication tool,” said Mack, public information officer with SNWA. “The public has changed their media consumption habits as more media platforms become available to us. Gone are the days of a news story and a radio ad reaching a large number of people.” 

SNWA began developing the podcast in late 2019, with a goal of launching in spring 2020. COVID-19 delayed the start and threw a few twists into plans, forcing the hosts and producers to record remotely from different locations. Still, the team of four – two hosts and two producers – were able to regroup and launch the podcast in late 2020. The episodes have caught on quickly with listeners; after four months, they’ve amassed more than 630 downloads and just under 100 subscribers. 

Water Smarts podcast from SNWA“Having that relationship with our customers, having trust from our customers, being seen as the experts, that’s critical to the success of any water utility operation,” Mack said. “That builds support when you have a rate increase and when you need to implement conservation measures. Building a conversation with your customers — that will come back tenfold. There’s no question about it.”

The two hosts have backgrounds in public relations: Zuelke used to work as a television news producer, and Mack previously worked in marketing for a rock band. “More than anything, I really enjoy news and I consume podcasts too,” Mack said. “It helped me get a sense of what seems to work.”

They were able to use software SNWA already had in place: Adobe Audition and Microsoft Teams, and they subscribed to several different hosting platforms. All told, the group spent less than $3,000 on the project, a reasonable start-up cost, Mack said.

He suggested that utilities interested in creating a podcast take a look at what software and equipment they already have available, and then jump in. 

“Record a couple pilot episodes,” he said. “Don’t expect the pilots will be the ones you’re going to publish. But they’ll help you understand what works, what doesn’t work and how long conversations go. You’ll get a sense of what the pacing needs to be.”

Mack said creating the podcast was an extension of SNWA’s engagement with American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) communication and outreach resources, which emphasize the importance of engaging with customers about the value of water. That’s important in the desert of southern Nevada, where encouraging wise water use is paramount. 

“We do TV ads, billboards, radio, and then we say, ‘what else can we do?’” Mack said. “Banners on the sides of buildings? Skywrite it?”

The podcast focuses on local water issues, reminding residents to adjust their sprinkler clocks regularly while discussing massive capital projects that will impact their water supply. But the episodes are also aimed at local water utility employees. SNWA delivers raw water to four utilities in the area, and topics like conservation, water quality and regional water infrastructure help keep their personnel up to date on emerging issues, so they are better equipped to talk with their customers about it, Mack said. 

“When southern Nevadans understand in detail about what it takes to move water from Lake Mead, they gain a great appreciation for the water system and the people making it happen,” Mack said.

In a recent episode titled “Poops don’t lie – tracking a pandemic using wastewater,” SNWA researchers Dan Gerrity and Katerina Papp discuss wastewater epidemiology and how it can serve as an early warning system for future virus outbreaks and other community health issues. They emphasize that COVID-19 is not found in drinking water, and they provide interesting details about how surveying sewage can help determine the prevalence of influenza, illicit drugs and other public health issues in a community. It’s a serious message, but one they lighten with a bit of humor.

“(My friends) have been following what I’ve been doing with wastewater surveillance,” Gerrity joked in the episode. “Every time they would flush the toilet, they would send me a text message saying they were submitting samples for our research.”