The value of water


We often don’t think about where our water comes from. We get up in the morning and go about our daily routines. Showering. Making coffee. Brushing our teeth. Doing laundry. Gardening. Getting in a workout.

The singular connection in each of these rituals is that they rely on us tapping into our local water supplies.

Seen in this context, what exactly is water worth? What is its value? More importantly, how do you get the average consumer to stop and think about that question – much less be able to answer it?

For over a decade, the Cascade Water Alliance has been working to raise awareness about water efficiency throughout the Puget Sound. As the municipal water consortium for cities such as Bellevue, Redmond, and Kirkland, Cascade’s central purpose is to provide safe, clean, and reliable water supply to 350,000 residences and more than 20,000 businesses.

In doing so, they have to regularly educate ratepayers across the region about a simple fact: water is a precious natural resource that we all rely on.

Delivering this message has become harder as the communications landscape has changed. With texting, Twitter, and “the selfie” becoming the new norm, Cascade knew that its approach to engaging with residents about water efficiency needed to change.

Last year, Quinn Thomas was hired to look at the organization’s communications strategy and identify new avenues for engaging the public in a conversation about wise water use.

We began working with Cascade as states like California began to experience historic water shortages. Perhaps our biggest challenge was finding a way to deliver the “value” message in a way that didn’t just lecture people about using less water. Cascade needed to balance its messaging in light of Governor Inslee’s emergency drought declaration in Washington State. (In fact, metropolitan areas in Puget Sound from Seattle to Tacoma have enough water supply and city managers still encourage wise water use regardless of drought conditions.)

Simply telling residents to use less water was not the right message – nor is it effective. Our team focused on helping Cascade position each local community as leaders in managing their water supply while conveying that we all are responsible for managing a shared resource.

To do that, we knew we had to get people to think deeper about the value proposition. Residents in very diverse areas of Puget Sound had to have a sense of ownership in the narrative. Moreover, the message had to live on somewhere personal to them.

Our team designed a strategy where residents and local water users could help Cascade shape the message. We developed a concept (based loosely off a campaign encouraging people to make a bucket list) to use interactive displays where people could finish one simple sentence:

We need water because….

Think about that. How would you finish that sentence? We realized that for each individual the answer might be different. But the value is the same. This simple idea personalizes the message and gives people an opportunity to participate in a conversation with their peers and their community.

Over the next four months, these customized displays will tour Puget Sound, including installations at events, parks, and public venues in Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Tukwila, and Issaquah.

Social media is playing a central role in the execution of this campaign, which kicks off today with a press event in Bellevue Park. You can follow the project’s progress on Twitter: @weneedwater.

We even found a way to integrate the selfie. By taking a photo of your answer and tagging it with #weneedwaterbecause anyone can become part of the social media feed that populates the campaign’s microsite. This creates a virtual display of diverse perspectives – and allows us to track how people are shaping this narrative across the region.

So, what is water really worth? How would you finish that sentence?

UPDATED: Check out the profile in The Seattle Times and watch this short video.

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