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Language Counts: Developing a Communications Plan to Talk About Reuse
Author: Marci Hawk
Date: 9/907
From WateReuse Conference, Sept. 2007

Water is essential to our everyday economy and quality of life throughout the United States. As water resources are stretched to their limits and as communities across the nation recognize the importance of carefully managing them, reclaimed water will become a part of everyday life. Utilities must optimize the use of reclaimed water as a component in the development of alternative water sources to reduce dependence on potable water supplies for non-potable uses. While this is standard practice for many western utilities and some in Florida, reuse is in its nascent stages in most states of the country. While engineers can design the facilities and scientists can provide the factual data supporting the reuse of reclaimed water, it is the public that has emerged as one of the most volatile and potentially unpredictable aspects of any reclaimed water reuse project. To be successful in promoting reclaimed water, wastewater utilities must overcome what some call the “yuck” factor in helping their customers accept this reality. By developing a Communications Plan to create the answers before the public, politicians or media can ask the questions, utilities can go a long way toward diffusing potentially explosive situations that can defeat a project. This paper examines the components of a Communications Plan, who should be involved in developing the Plan, and offers some strategies specific to the reuse discussion, primarily focusing on how language impacts acceptance and can set the tone for informing the public on water reuse and its practical benefits. It also features case studies from a couple of metro Atlanta utilities – one that took a low-key, small-scale, but carefully planned approach to introducing reclaimed water for irrigation purposes in recreational and public areas and another that used a more developed, broader reaching plan in association with the construction of a membrane bioreactor (MBR) facility next to an affluent community.