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E-Splash February 2014 - Water Outreach - Think Globally
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Illinois Section AWWA - E-Splash -  February 2014

Water Outreach - Think Globally, Act Locally
Greg Swanson - Outreach Committee

Water awareness and appreciation seems to be growing slowly, but surely across our nation. This growth is due, in part, to the efforts of Water for People and other like minded organizations that are dedicated to helping address serious needs in water-challenged regions of our planet. In the course of these outreach efforts, water’s vital and sacred role in Earth’s ecosystem and human life is pointedly highlighted. This article presents details of a recent global water outreach event in Moline and provides insights regarding associated water utility interactions and benefits.

Wells4Wellness (W4W) is a Quad City area NFP whose mission is raising funds to allow the drilling of water wells in Niger. This country in West Africa currently has extreme water challenges that greatly diminish its people’s quality of life. The installation of water wells is making life much better for the people of Niger. You can learn more on the W4W Facebook page. Pat Herath, W4W founder and Executive Director, contacted me during the early planning phase of a fund-raising event to be held on Saturday, October 5, along Butterworth Parkway on the Mississippi riverfront. I invited the W4W board to visit the Moline Water Plant so they could learn more about the world of water and the effort required to supply Moline homes with safe water. The W4W board found this experience to be truly enlightening. They walked away with heightened appreciation of the high quality water they enjoy each day and increased fervor to aid those in Niger who struggle to obtain this essential need.

As planning progressed, the scope of the event grew from the original 5k run/walk to include a relay race, Kids4Water 1 mile fun run, and a Paws4Water dog walk in which the dogs wore custom back-packs to carry water. One of the most interesting ideas that emerged from our brainstorming efforts was the goal of having participants fill a 100 gallon container from one gallon jugs that they had carried during the various events. The intent being to make real the amount of effort required to carry water and the amount of water a typical American uses each day.

A plastic 100-gallon tank (normally used for testing new water mains) was pressed into service for the event. My wife, Betsy, and artistic friends, Dot, Dan, Jacqui, and Dasha, agreed to decorate the tank for the event. On a Sunday afternoon, we began by watching some short videos on the Niger water concerns, and then we listened to a variety of wonderful African music for inspiration as we painted images on the tank. We found the experience to be moving and fun! Similarly, young people were asked to decorate their one gallon jugs for the event, with prizes being given for the most creative, funny and educational jugs.

The local media picked up on the event and Pat appeared on several TV programs, which placed water in the spotlight in homes throughout the area. Articles appeared in both Quad City newspapers, one of which prominently featured a color photo of the 100 gallon tank. Interest continued to grow and the event turned out to be a great success on many levels. On the global level, a significant amount of money was raised for wells in Niger. This money came from the event itself and from donations that resulted from the media coverage. On the local level, participants really enjoyed themselves and many remarked that they developed true appreciation after carrying water in the event and then seeing how much water they use every day. It was especially exciting for our utility when the water distribution relay team, Tony Loete, Ryan Rangel and George Porumb, won the unique well-shaped traveling trophy.

In summary, this event was a truly powerful and enjoyable water outreach experience for our water utility. Not only did we assist W4W in their efforts to address a portion of the world’s growing water challenges, but we also heightened water awareness and appreciation in our local community, creating water advocates, both young and old. I sincerely encourage other utilities to seek out similar water outreach opportunities that involve thinking globally and acting locally. If you are unaware of a water-related NFP in your area, consider contacting Water for People or Wells4Wellness.


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