ACWA’s 2018 Huell Howser Best in Blue Award for Communications Excellence Goes to OCWD

By on December 10, 2018

The path from project concept to reality and on to a robust communications plan to dispel the “yuck factor” has been an extensive undertaking for the Orange County Water District (OCWD). But their efforts were recently acknowledged and celebrated at the annual Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA)Fall Conference held in San Diego.

OCWD was honored with the 2018 Huell Howser Best in Blue Award from the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) for the water district’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) Bottled Water Campaign. The GWRS Bottled Water Campaign was launched to help the public move past the perceived “yuck factor” of drinking advanced purified wastewater and to generate support for similar recycled water projects. OCWD worked together with Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) and Dick Jones Communications to draft a communications plan for the campaign.

The campaign was comprised of programs and events tailored to reach numerous audiences and was made possible when legislation was enacted in 2017 that permitted the bottling of GWRS water. OCWD, OCSD, and WateReuse California had worked together and led efforts beginning in 2016 to pass AB 2022, which allows the bottling of advanced purified water for educational purposes. In 2017, OCWD and OCSD became the first to bottle such water in the Western Hemisphere.

The communications plan included:

  • Four primary campaign events including – the GWRS Bottled Recycled Water launch; the #GetOverIt! challenge for media and social media influencers to taste GWRS water and report about it; the Winter Fest community party to celebrate the GWRS 10th Anniversary; and the Guinness World Records™ attempt to recycle the most wastewater to drinking water in 24 hours.
  • Ongoing primary campaign tools including – the bottled water, a website, a custom media kit, presentations, event participation, videos, press releases, articles, and additional activities.
  • The distribution of more than 13,000 bottles of recycled water. Nearly 17,000 people were engaged in project participation.

ROI for the campaign included positive media coverage and increased awareness of and support for water recycling. This included reporters and social media influencers that were key to helping the campaign expand its reach.

“The increased visibility from the campaign helped to overcome ‘toilet-to-tap’ misconceptions and gain support of water reuse for future infrastructure and program investments on the public’s behalf,” stated OCWD President Denis Bilodeau. “Staff answered questions, debunked myths and the tasting made believers out of the doubters. The positive discussion of recycled water is now magnified.”

The Huell Howser Best in Blue Award is named in honor of Huell Howser, the television personality best known for his series “California Gold,” which explored the natural, cultural and historical features of California. The award recognizes outstanding achievements by public water agencies in communicating with customers, legislators, media, the public, and others.

“This is a special honor for us because Huell Howser put the Groundwater Replenishment System on the map,” stated OCWD Board Member Cathy Green. “He came to the Fountain Valley facility when it was in demonstration mode, spent an entire day exploring all that was involved in making high-quality purified water from wastewater, and he drank the product water on camera ending with a hearty ‘Oh Boy’ of approval. Having such a prestigious, well-liked and trusted personality, as Huell was, went far to give our project a stamp of approval.”