The Water Environment Federation (WEF) has been working to protect public health and the environment since 1928. WEF and its members connect water professionals around the world, raise awareness of the impact and value of water, and provide a platform for innovation. Getting WEF’s messages across is our interviewee Travis Loop, their Director of Communications and Outreach.
How do you think communication in the water sector has evolved in recent years?
There has been a rapidly growing recognition that communication and public engagement are essential activities for the water sector, including for utilities, municipalities, engineering firms, and technology companies. For the most part, utilities have realized they can no longer keep a low profile and simply react to situations as it has been done for decades. That approach put utilities on the defensive and often resulted in negative coverage and public perception. Instead, a new generation of communicators is leading a proactive approach that is based on constantly informing the public and on using tools such as social media and video.
Why do you think it is important to communicate about water?
There are tremendous challenges facing water systems and resources, including aging infrastructure, population growth and development, pollution problems, and climate change. Water is critical to human health, the environment, our communities, and the economy. It is important to communicate about all of this to drive the stewardship and investment in water that is necessary to meet the challenges. While those of us in the water sector are familiar with the problems and importance of water, most of the public doesn’t have the understanding and we need to raise their awareness.
It is important to communicate about all of this to drive the stewardship and investment in water that is necessary to meet the challenges
What are the most challenging aspects of communicating about the work of the water sector?
Water infrastructure is largely hidden from public view, unlike many other types of infrastructure like roads, bridges, rail lines, and airports. People are used to the convenience of turning on the tap and flushing the toilet and don’t understand the systems and costs behind the service. Building awareness of how water infrastructure works and an appreciation for the value of water is one of the more challenging and most important aspects of communication. It can also be challenging to modify, target, and conduct communications for the wide variety of stakeholders in water, including the general public, private sector, and elected officials at various levels of government.
Could you highlight one of your organisation’s communication success stories?
For many years the Water Environment Federation, its members, and the broader water sector have communicated to the U.S. federal government about the desperate need to invest in water infrastructure. This effort was conducted through every communications channel, such as media outreach, public education, social media campaigns, direct advocacy, and events in Washington, D.C. Finally in 2021 came the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides over $48 billion for water infrastructure, perhaps the largest ever single investment by the U.S. government.
Building awareness of how water infrastructure works and an appreciation for the value of water is one of the more challenging and most important aspects of communication
Who or what organisation inspires you when it comes to ways of communicating?
There are so many organizations and individuals doing tremendous work communicating about water, so these are just a few examples. The practice of proactive, multimedia, customer-focused communications has taken off at utilities of all sizes, including in Chicago, Louisville, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Social media is so central to communications today and while the whole sector is embracing the platforms, the Twitter account of NE Ohio Regional Sewer District is the leader in creative and impactful content. It is also notable to see the rise of water coverage by media outlets such as the Associated Press and National Public Radio.