| Utility takes to the air waves to promote water services
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Utility takes to the air waves to promote water services

To demonstrate the science and complexities of delivering water services and engage with its community, Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) in North Carolina is showering the local airwaves with entertaining water tales.

Wonderful WaterOWASA sponsors a Wonderful Water Educational Series, a monthly broadcast hosted by a local radio station that covers topics ranging from water treatment to conservation. Each five-to-six minute spot highlights the water system’s team members talking about a timely water topic.

“Our Wonderful Water radio program is a great resource for communicating with our community through our most local news source,” said Mary Tiger, OWASA’s strategic initiatives manager. “We recognize the value of our team connecting with our customers outside of our bill and ‘boil water’ advisories and sharing the great things we’re working on to provide their water services.”

OWASA is a public, nonprofit agency that provides about 86,000 residents in the communities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro in southeastern Orange County with water, wastewater and reclaimed water services. The agency is a paid sponsor of the monthly radio broadcasts. The most recent spot is available on 97.9 The Hill’s website.

Tiger said the public has responded positively to OWASA’s staff sharing their water expertise. OWASA crews out in the community are recognized by residents and thanked for the work they’re doing, and OWASA has seen a significant increase in engagement on its social media platforms.

Mary Tiger with radio host Aaron Keck“The radio show is part of our larger plan to connect with our community in a positive way,” said Tiger, pictured at right with radio host Aaron Keck. “We also provide a water wagon to serve clean, cold water from our distribution system at community events, and we take a very active role in local schools and sponsor a youth water academy. Long term, these activities are an investment in building confidence and trust in our utility.”

Connecting the dots

Prior to the pandemic, the Wonderful Water interviews were taped at the radio station’s studio, and sometimes community residents and stakeholders were invited to participate. A discussion about lake recreation featured OWASA’s senior lake warden and a local fishing enthusiast. A show about disposal of fats, oil and grease featured an OWASA wastewater leader and a local chef.

“When COVID-19 first hit, we were able to go on and say there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through water,” Tiger said. “The show also gave us a platform to talk about the importance of flushing out water systems when buildings began opening up.”

Another benefit of working regularly with the local radio station is that the newscasters who are reporting on local news are more informed about the water and sewer operations.

OWASA staff with radio host Adam Keck“They have more context to draw upon when news happens, and that has been valuable with a few stories involving the water utility,” Tiger said.

In addition, having utility employees participate in a Wonderful Water interview provides them an opportunity to grow and develop additional skills, Tiger added. “Blake Hodge, our communications specialist, coaches them through a mock interview to give them the skills and confidence to talk to the community about what we do.” (Pictured right, news broadcaster Keck with OWASA’s Katie Harwell and a graduate of OWASA’s youth water academy)

Amplifying the water business

A week before a new Wonderful Water show is about to air, OWASA notifies employees and its board of directors. Once the show is taped, the utility shares it on its social media platforms and follows up on resulting posts. 

“There’s a lot of important work our team does that may not seem super exciting but is done daily, and only noticed when it doesn’t get done,” Tiger said. “Wonderful Water gives us an opportunity to highlight our everyday heroes and the services we provide in the community. It provides a much-needed morale boost.”