Hello. It’s Me.

This week’s blog was written by WCO graduate assistant and Adele-fan Lily Cason.

Have you seen Saturday Night Live’s recent skit about how Adele’s song “Hello”* can keep your family from fighting at Thanksgiving?


In the video a family gets into some conversation minefields, but the holiday spirit is saved when the family is united by their love of Adele. We all love Adele. Her single “Hello” has reached #1 on the charts in 28 countries and became the first song ever to have more than 1 million digital sales in a week. Adele seems to be universally loved and appreciated.

But “#1” doesn’t just apply to music. There’s another thing that unites us all: water. More than 7 billion people use water every day in every country around the world. I was wondering if maybe water could unite our families at Thanksgiving as well.

Hello from the other siiiide! Those of us who work for water utilities have a special glimpse into a hidden world. In the time that I have been working for the ACC Public Utilities Department, I have learned so much about our infrastructure and the issues we deal with in the water world. I often joke that this job has ruined my life, because I am now obsessed with scraping my dishes clean so as not to send clog-producing fats, oils, and grease down the drain. I make sure to only flush the 4 Ps (Poo, Pee, Puke, and toilet Paper) and throw floss and tissues in the trash instead. I refuse to leave a restaurant water glass without drinking all of the water in it (water conservation and hydration win!). I turn the faucet off while brushing my teeth. I use grey water to water my plants.

Why do I do all of these things? Because I am so grateful to have clean water. In the United States we are lucky to have clean drinking water and wastewater treatment that keeps our waterways clean. So I do what I can to help maintain these systems that I feel so lucky to have. Part of that means sharing what I’ve learned. At the Water Conservation Office we lead tours of our facilities, talk about water in school programs, and post to social media to share what we know.

My friends and family may get tired of hearing about my Adele and water obsessions, but at least I can say that I’ve tried (too much?).

I encourage you to share what you know about water with your loved ones this Thanksgiving. Whether you talk about how to handle the grease left over from your delicious holiday cooking (eg. don’t pour it down the drain), how the water bears that help clean our wastewater can survive in outer space (!), the 2.5 billion people in the world who don’t have access to improved sanitation, or whatever else you find interesting.  Remind your loved ones to conserve and appreciate our water resources because it’s no secret that the both of us…are running out of time.

When my family goes around the table on Thursday to say what we are thankful for, I will definitely say: Adele.

And water too, of course. 🙂

* Here is the original music video for Adele’s “Hello” in case you missed it


15 Ways a Water Utility can Dive into Social Media

This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, program specialist with the ACC Water Conservation Office.

Have you been thinking about dipping your toes into social media but still haven’t taken the plunge?

flu shot

Don’t let the fear of a flu shot keep you from using social media.

A water utility deciding whether or not to use social media is similar to going in for a flu shot.  Your rational brain knows the flu shot is beneficial for your long-term health, but you drag your feet walking into the doctor’s office.  You fear the pain of the needle, dread the lingering soreness in your arm, and worry about the possible negative side effects.

Content creation is the social media equivalent to the flu shot.  You know social media offers you an enormous opportunity to building a healthy relationship with your customers, just like a flu shot prevents the flu all season.  But the burden of having to create continuous and engaging content can linger like the painful memory of  a needle stick.

Assuming you got the flu shot, you know it wasn’t that bad after all.  Content creation for your social media sites can be the same way.  To ease the pain and anxiety, here are a few ideas to get you started creating content.

1.  Organize your outreach calendar.  Start your efforts  by creating a social media calendar to compliment your outreach plan.  A good social media strategy helps you determine your goals, organize your outreach tactics, and create content.  Doing this step makes social media less daunting and gives your utility more direction.  For more on this, check out the wonderful book Content Rules, by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman.

Screenshot 2015-02-17 13.15.50

Monitor posts by others and create a response to address their concerns.

2.  Give real-time information and warnings about water main breaks, boil water alerts, or weather related emergencies.   You can also look on Twitter for postings from your customers about breaks or other issues, possibly allowing you to get to a problem quicker than before.

3.  Brag on your employees and boost morale.  Our water and wastewater workers are a vital part of our community, but these men and women are often taken for granted.  Post photos of them at work on Facebook and Instagram.  Have the employees submit on the job selfies. This helps the community understand what the utility worker does behind the scenes.

4.  Engage in conversation with customers.  Use social media to speak directly to your customer base.  Explain upcoming utility changes before they happen.  Share tips on how to prevent frozen pipes.  Worried about negative comments?  See this public feedback as an opportunity to address the problem and make it right.

5.  Share videos.  Find something really disgusting in a sewer line?  Share a video of the yuck being removed on You Tube or Vine, then use this as an opportunity to educate your audience of proper waste disposal.  Post links to videos explaining how to check the house for leaks on Twitter.  If sharing videos made by others, remember to watch the entire video  for appropriateness before posting!

6.  Publicize upcoming events.  Have a great toilet repair workshop in the near future?  Boost attendance through your social media outlets.  Create a Facebook event page and send reminders on Twitter. Provide links to online registration forms and additional information. Take pictures during the event and share in a photo album on Facebook.

WaterSense Award

You work hard. Let others know how much you care about our water!

7.  Establish yourself as an expert in your field.  Write blogs, answer questions posted by your audience, or post on Linkedin message boards in a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and professional manner.  Do this consistently throughout the year and you become the trusted expert your customers turn to in an emergency or drought.

8.  Attaboys!  Did you recently win an award for your drinking water quality?  Do you have a drinking water treatment operator  working at your facility named the best in the state?  Brag about your accomplishments!  Share a photo of the trophy on Instagram.  Write a brief bio and snap an image of the operator for Facebook.

9.  Share your Consumer Confidence Report, or Drinking Water Quality Report, with your customers through links on Twitter or Facebook.  You need to share this with the public anyway, so why not add this to your list of distribution methods?

10.  Highlight local businesses.  Do you know of a business who has made great strides in water efficiency?  Recognize their efforts through photos and words.  Take a photo inside the location and ask your audience to guess which local business updated their toilets.  Have a drawing of the entrants and give a prize.  Add this business to a board of Water Warriors on Pinterest by including an image, brief description, and link to the business.

50 Shades of Brown

Find what is trending & use it as a springboard when creating interesting content.

11.  Create targeted messages utilizing your smart meter analytics.  With the data collected from a smart meter, you can target particular groups with community based social marketing messages to change social norms.  For example, let a specific neighborhood know that “75% of the people in your neighborhood reduced their water use from the month before.  Keep up the good work!”

12.  Stay with the current!  Look for what is trending on Twitter, BuzzFeed, or other sites and incorporate it into your content.  For example, 50 Shades of Gray was trending, so a tour of a water reclamation facility is a perfect place to promote 50 Shades of Brown.

13.  Post images and infographics.  Add posts with an image to increase engagement.  Capture a pretty sunset over an aeration basin?  Find an easy to understand inforgraphic about World Toilet Day?  Share the image with a creative and brief caption or text.  This easy content builder works well on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

14.  Share articles, posts, and blogs from other experts.  Stay up to date and keep learning about the water field by reading blog postings and articles by others.  Did you learn something new?  See something another utility posted?  (Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has great content!)   Share it with your readers!  You can also take a moment to post comments and questions to the author.  Linkedin is a good place to find articles and create discussion.

15.  Ask your audience what they want from you.  When in doubt, go to the source.  We can only pretend to know exactly what our customers find helpful.  Ask your followers what they would like to see you share.  Examine your analytics to determine which posts received the most view, shares, likes, and comments, then do more of it.

Using social media is an inexpensive way to conduct outreach, but it can cost time.  Develop an organized plan of action and content creation becomes much easier.  You can even do it from your phone while waiting for your flu vaccine.  Just do it.



Can a Public Utility be Social?


Is it too much? Is it worth the effort?

I have continued to struggle with an inner conflict that you also may be experiencing.  Does social media constitute a waste of my valuable time at work or can it be an essential tool for changing water use behavior?   Does this platform really have such power to bring about change?  I recently had the privilege to attend the 2013 WaterSmart Innovations Conference.  A workshop entitled “Ways to Influence Water Use through Social Media” sounded like the perfect therapy for me.  It could possibly give me the answer and push I needed to fully dive into the social waters.

I share with you a small sampling of what I learned from the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies knowledgeable presenters, Alan Harris and Richard Restuccia, and ways a public utility can and should be social.

Linkedin isn’t just for job seekers – more than 225 million users.  When considering social media outlets, Linkedin wasn’t on my list of time-wasters, umm, I mean marketing opportunities.  I had long ago written this site off as only for those trying to make connections to secure employment and nothing more.  Oh, how wrong I was.  Mr. Harris enlightened me as to how to use it more fully.

  1. Connect and share ideas with others involved with water conservation and community-based social marketing from around the world by using Linkedin’s groups feature.
  2. Drive traffic to your blog by posting links on your profile.
  3. Invite your connections to participate in and share your upcoming events with their connections.
  4. Reminder to me:  Update my profile.  You should, too.
Follow ACC Water Warrior on Twitter

Follow ACC Water Warrior on Twitter

Twitter is more than 140 characters – about 500 million Tweets per day.  “Tweet” is the sound I believed only a bird should make, not something someone working hard to save water should be doing.  But Mr. Restuccia softened me to Twitter.

  1. Discover what the world is talking about, aka “trending,” and add to the conversation through tweets or by using the trend to inspire a hot water blog topic.
  2. #Hashtags help you to connect with a Twitter-wide conversation.  Use a maximum of two hashtags per tweet and share your thoughts, which of course can creatively incorporate a conservation technique.
  3. Use a third-party app, such as hootsuite or buffer, to schedule future tweets to be sent.  Designate a special daily tweet-time, about 10 minutes or so, for scheduling future tweets and save your valuable time for other work duties as assigned.
pinterest screenshot

Follow Lily Anne Phibian on Pinterest

Pinterest is awesome – the average pin remains clickworthy for months, rather than minutes like tweets.  Ok, I admit I am a woman, as are 80% of the estimated 70 million (and growing) Pinterest users.  But who is the typical decision maker in a home?  Based purely on opinion with no facts to back me up, I say women make more of the household decisions, including that it is time to get a new dishwasher, faucet, or washing machine.  So, who does a public utility want to reach for changing water use behavior?  The users of Pinterest.

  1. Recognize people in your community who use water efficiently.  Promote water wise behaviors as the social norm through your boards.
  2. Provide water conservation education-related ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms.  While woman may be the decision makers, children are the influencers.
  3. Engage with a visual image, then link to tips about how to add native plants to a yard, find WaterSense products, or learn about water footprints.
google plus screen shot

Join Lily Anne Phibian on Google+

Google Plus has a place – and it is growing.  OK, I admit if I was to actively pursue Google Plus at this moment, I will officially sink underwater.  But I do plan to utilize this outlet as soon as I effectively manage my other social media time commitments.  Why?  Because Mr. Restuccia gave good reasons for doing so.

  1. Manage and target your “people” through the use of circles.  Have a conservation message to target a specific group of people?  Put them into the same circle and easily market to only this crowd.
  2. Rise in the rankings of a Google search simply by having a Google Plus account.  Who doesn’t want to be the top water dog in a Google search?
  3. Connect with others through the use of Google Plus communities.  Once your public utility is social, take the connection further into just about real life by using the “hangout” feature and video chat with others.

Diving into the social media arena is overwhelming and will be, at least initially, time-consuming. The socially savvy presenters from ValleyCrest helped me to see creative ways these platforms can work for a public utility.  With some careful time management, I hope to find the task of managing these sites as routine as checking my email.  Follow me on Twitter and Pinterest, connect with me on Linkedin, or be my friend on Facebook or Google Plus and find out if I’m up to the job.  I’ll do the same for you and we can navigate these waters together.  I think that makes us social.

Laurie Loftin

Facebook:  Friend Lily Anne Phibian or Like Water Conservation Office – Athens-Clarke County

Follow Me on Pinterest


Google Plus:  Join Lily Anne Phibian

YouTube:  Subscribe to Lily Anne Phibian

Linkedin:  Connect with Laurel Loftin

I need a smart phone.

Next week the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office will be presenting in our first WaterSense Partner webinar.  Needless to say we are excited and nervous.  The utility that is speaking before us is the Salt River Project.  They are in Phoenix.  Yes, Phoenix, Arizona!  The Phoenix metro area has a population of 4.2 million people and it only rains about 8 inches a year.  They are huge and they have almost no water.  We, on the other hand, are tiny and we get a lot more rain.  When it comes to conservation, they will be a tough act to follow.  We will be talking about our social media efforts: facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram, this blog, etc.  I assume the Salt River Project will be talking about their stuff, too.

The webinar is for WaterSense Partners and this one will focus on using sodial media to promote WaterSense.  WaterSense is a program where the EPA tests water-using appliances, fixtures, and even whole homes, and puts the WaterSense logo on the best ones.  When I say “best” I mean the ones that are very water efficient and still perform extraoridinarily well.  This is what the logo looks like.


This is what it looks like when we promote the WaterSense label.

Agent Conserving Water (38)

Spoiler Alert!  Our last slide in the webinar takes a look into the future.  What is next for us in Social Media?  We have no idea!  I heard a report on NPR a few weeks or months ago about “Vine”.  That sounded like something we should do!  Then, yesterday, our college-age intern told us that Vine has already run its course.  But then I found this article from Athens, Ohio.  A student at Ohio University racked up 850,000 Vine viewers and made it into their newspaper.  Maybe once social media gets into the “mainstream” media, young people think it just died.  If their mothers know about it, it must be lame!  It is all very confusing.

One thing is certain,  the future of social media lies in the cell phone.  (I guess I should get one.)  I found a great blog by Robert Osborne about water Apps.  (I only know what an “App” is from cell-phone commercials and the used iPad Santa got my kids for Christmas.)  In his blog, he updates an older blog about water apps.  Apps are forever evolving, just like a successful social media presence.  He shows us apps about weather, river flows, and other water related things.

What sort of app would we like to see?  How about one that shows the drought status of our emergency water supply, the Bear Creek Reservoir?  Or the water use at our Water Treatment Plant during a UGA football game?  (I know you are curious if flows really increase during commercials.)

Maybe if we come up with a good idea we will develop an app!  What do you think?  Do you have any water app ideas?  (Maybe by the time it is developed I will have a smart phone.)

-Marilyn Hall, ACC Water Conservation Coordinator

Slacker or Worker: The New Look of PR

I want to take a little bit of a detour from water conservation to talk about social media. I know, I know, this isn’t why you’re reading this blog, BUT, I have found that within our office, it’s become a huge topic of discussion.  I’ve forced myself into the forefront of social media on behalf of the Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve jumped in over my head.

What I mean is I’ve had zero professional training.  I’ve taken zero classes on PR, marketing, journalism, or any other subject that would be remotely useful for expanding social media expertise.  And yet, here I am, forcing my way into this foreign world of computers and instant communication.  I’ve dragged my coworkers and bosses with me: better to make a journey like this with a team than to make it alone, I’m thankful for the support Team Water has given me.

But. There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

Though we’ve taken a huge step forward into the world of technology, we’re still creatures of habit. We still view Facebook as a procrastination tool, as something that is not productive, that doesn’t classify as “work.”  We still feel uncomfortable with Twitter, with the idea that constantly tweeting, retweeting, and reading tweets is actually doing something worth being paid for. Blogging still feels like writing in a journal, not connecting with a public that is genuinely interested in what our office is doing, and why it matters.  Pinterest sounds like another time-waster, not something useful for expanding your brand recognition.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

So what’s the deal? Why am I complaining about sitting on Facebook and getting paid to do it?  Well…because I’m struggling with seeing it as acceptable.

But it is.

It’s very clear that Twitter and Facebook have done lots of work in furthering our conservation message. Those of you that are on Facebook, Twitter, and the blog-o-sphere for fun DO see our conservation messages, our links, our photos, our events, our tweets, and (hopefully), they get you thinking about our water supply.  A huge part of our responsibility as the Water Conservation Office is outreach: getting across the importance of our Athens water, and the wise use of it. How are messages received in today’s world?  Through TweetDeck, your Facebook inbox, and those handy apps on your phone.  That alone, I think, gives me permission to use those tools to speak to you.

 Last “but,” I promise. But what do you think?  Do you think I’m playing around all day?  Do you think this is a valuable endeavor?  Do you benefit from my incessant communication? The most important thing I want to keep in mind during all these outreach efforts is: is this actually working? Are those that I am speaking to actually listening?  If not, how can I change what I’m doing?  I do want to hear from you, my readers.  If I get responses, I’ll formulate a follow-up post with your ideas, thoughts, and I’ll give credit where credit is due.  So please tell me: what do you think?

Annaliese Ashley-Intern

Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 8/14/12

Opening Ceremony

Drum roll please…

With the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics still fresh in our minds, it seemed appropriate to have our own introductory parade of Team Water!  I wanted to introduce you to my teammates, those who have taught, inspired, challenged, and led me this summer.  Each member of Team Water gives something vital to our team: each member contributes in his or her own unique way which makes Team Water worthy of much more text than I’ve given them here.

Marilyn Hall: The staunch leader of Team Water, Marilyn has been working at the Water Conservation Office for 3 years.  Her kids affectionately call her a “water conservation geek,” and she has been a lifelong water enthusiast.  She grew up in San Diego, a city that only receives about 11 inches of rain a year, so if anyone is prepared for the drought we’re currently experiencing, it’s Marilyn.  She hopes to instill a water conservation ethic in the Athens community, through educational programs, running and participating in festivals, and other community outreach opportunities.

Laurie Loftin:The education specialist of Team Water, Laurie has been working at the Water Conservation Office for just over a year.  When she began working here, her outlook on the importance of water changed: it is necessary to everything!  She hopes to foster that same appreciation she found for water within the rest of the Athens community.  Laurie believes that a greater understanding of the role water plays in our everyday lives leads to a desire to protect this valuable natural resource.  As Mark Twain said, “water, taken in moderation, cannot hurt anybody.”

Will Cottrell: An offsite member of Team Water, Will is the Operations Coordinator of the JG Beacham Water Treatment Plant (on Barber St).  He is the resident tour-expert there, and is now also teaching kids and adults about water treatment at various camps and classes.  His quiet leadership has kept things running beautifully over there, and we’re all very thankful for his dedication to the Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department and to the conservation of our beloved water.


Jackie Sherry:The new graduate assistant, Jackie began working with the Water Conservation Office this summer, and will continue with this office until she finishes her Master’s of Natural Resources at Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (UGA) in 2 years.  She feels that educational programs with kids are the most important thing this office does, and her main goal is to get the students she comes in contact with interested in water and excited about conserving it!  She thinks it is important that this up and coming generation appreciates where our water comes from and how it is treated, cleaned, and returned.

Annaliese Ashley: Me, the summer intern.  I began work here at the beginning of June, and will continue keeping up with the social media (this blog, our facebook, and our twitter feed ) through the fall, until my (hopeful) graduation from Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (UGA) in December.  I cannot begin to describe how much I have learned this summer, but the biggest lesson I will take away from this internship is: you cannot escape your responsibility to water.  What I mean is, it’s everywhere, it’s always used, it’s always important, and it’s our job to be conservation-minded.


Lily Anne Phibian:Our beautiful mascot Lily hatched on the shores of the North Oconee River in July of 2009.  She loves meeting new people and spreading the word about how to conserve our earth’s precious water.  Lily loves to visit classrooms, meet kids, and cheer for water conservation! She has generously lent us use of her gmail account for this blog.  She loves being on the cutting edge of social media, and is hopping with excitement to watch this blog grow.

Phileap: He is our other mascot.  He is a green tree frog and is an integral part of some of our outreach programs.  Phileap spends his office hours eating crickets and basking in the lamp-light.  To him, water conservation and wise water use is a matter of life and death.

As this blog continues to grow, I hope to have all of the members of Team Water share their experiences with the WCO, goals for the WCO and for Athens, and their excitement about water conservation.  If it were up to me, I’d give each of my teammates a gold medal for their stellar achievements in the event of water conservation.  But, I’ll leave that to the official Olympics.  GO USA!

Annaliese Ashley-Intern

Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 7/31/12

Who Am I, Why Am I Here?

Blog number two.  If you’re reading this, it means that blog number 1 went over well with the office…Success!

The beauty of a blog is it’s like a conversation; it’s a place through which I can use my own voice to break down things into a language that is relatable.  I can sit here and type to you and it’s as if we’re sitting at Jittery Joe’s discussing this over a cup of their fabulous coffee.

So, let’s talk.  I am the summer intern for the Water Conservation Office.  I have been working closely with our education specialist (Laurie) on all of the outreach programs she runs during the summer.  We have been to Sandy Creek Day Camp, Athens Montessori, Timothy Baptist, East Athens Community Center, Athfest…the list goes on.  Every time we take a trip, we bring with us toys, tools, tricks, and tips about water conservation and wise use.  It’s fun!  Watching the kids begin to understand the importance of water conservation is really neat.

In addition to helping Laurie lead these programs, I have also spent time expanding the office’s use of social media.  We have a twitter now (check our links page to follow us!), and we have this blog.  It’s crazy how much this outdoor-loving girl has been glued to a computer over the past two months.

But I digress, what I really wanted to talk to you about was this office.  Who are we? What do we do? Why are we here?

The Water Conservation Office (WCO) is part of the county government for Athens-Clarke County.  This office is nested within the Public Utilities Department.  The unique thing about the WCO is that although we’re a utilities office, we also do a lot of educational outreach programs.  It seems strange, for a governmental office to be doing as much outreach and as many community events as we do—the government’s job is rules, regulations, etc…right?

Well, maybe.  But I think it’s wonderful that the WCO does as much as it does: what better way to ensure the communication of our purpose than through the sponge-like minds of the children of Athens?

What is our purpose, you say?  Officially, “the goal of the Water Conservation Office is to ensure water use efficiency so that water demand does not exceed the safe yield of our water supply and related environmental concerns.” Sound like economics to you? Hey, me too!  But supply and demand is ubiquitous; it happens outside of economics too.  Demand for something cannot exceed the supply, else you have some demanders that are quite unsatisfied.  The water conservation office works very hard to give you the best information we can on how to keep the supply alive…that is, how Athens can keep our water around.

I find I take water for granted far too often.  Georgia isn’t exactly known for her deserts…we have lakes, streams, rivers, creeks, pools, ponds, reservoirs…we have water.  In fact, it wasn’t until I started working for the water conservation office that I realized just how close this city has come to being without water.  We’ve come really close.  Even now, despite our off-and-on-rain, we are pulling from our reservoir, not our usual water source of the Middle and North Oconee Rivers.  This means our rivers are too dry for us to use their water:

We could, I suppose, use the river until it runs dry, but remember supply and demand? People–especially people from Athens-Clarke county–aren’t the only ones who are in demand of water.  The rivers flow into other counties not under the WCO’s jurisdiction, the rivers feed the bank-side trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, and animals.  This brings us to a very important phrase in the office’s mission statement: “safe yield.”  Yield and safe yield are two very different ideas.  The desire to maintain safe yield is why it’s called the Water Conservation Office, not the Water Use Office.

I think it’s neat that the WCO cares about not only getting water to you, but keeping it coming.  The people in this office: my bosses Marilyn and Laurie, my fellow intern Jackie, even the accountant and administrative assistant…they all love water.  It’s amazing to see a group of people who love their jobs, who understand the importance of their work every single day.  Their goal here is to keep Athens hydrated: with water and with good conservation practices.  Yes, the drought is hard, the watering restrictions make gardening difficult, but when you step back and think about the big Athens-wide picture, watering your garden too often could mean the difference in having drinking water at the end of the summer or not having it.  It seems dismal to put it like that, but I cannot help but think that way.  The office works very diligently to ensure that we don’t run out, the best thing I think I can do, and you too, is to give them a hand.

-Annaliese Ashley, Intern

Originally posted on waterconservationstation.blogspot.com, 7/24/12