Jennifer Williams is the storm water coordinator for the city of Huntington. She was brought aboard a couple years
ago after the US Environmental Protection Agency fined the city nearly $156,000for
violating the clean water act.
In 2003 the federal government told cities to stop
putting storm water into their municipal sewer systems. In Huntington the storm water and sewer systems
are combined. Williams negotiated and got the fine dropped to $15,000 and will
spend an additional $84,000 on environmental projects in the community that
help solve some of overflow issues in the system.
“A couple of things are about to happen. We really need to let the public know what they can do to help, because our
aging infrastructure and our aging water treatment plant already take on more
than they need too especially during storm events and because they’re crumbling
it is important that some people take some of the water off the system,”
Williams learned how to get that message
across this week by taking part in a conference sponsored by the West Virginia
Department of Environmental Protection in Huntington. The conferenced focused
on ways cities could better communicate efforts to keep water clean. Williams said people in Huntington and other
communities can help by disconnecting water spouts from the sewer system and
putting out rain barrels.
Eric Eckl a nationally known expert on
messaging skills for environmental topics gave lesson on how to convey
information more simply. Eckl points out most members of the public aren’t part
of the environmental community so messages need to make sense to them.
“It’s no secret that scientists and
engineers sometimes have a hard time explaining their work to the public in a
way the public understands and the purpose of the workshop is help the
scientists and engineers realize that and learn how to translate their work and
open it up for a wider audience. We’re trying to make it accessible to everyone,”
Eckl said it’s important to use language
the average Joe understands , such as saying the water supply instead of
watershed, or putting to use terms used in every day conversation instead of
language used on science projects.
“We know that everybody needs clean
water and everybody cares about clean water and people are willing to do their
part to keep the water clean if they understand what 'that' is and so the focus
is helping the professionals explain their work to the public using the same
words,” Eckl said.
Representatives from areas of the state
such as Charleston, Milton, Beckley and Martinsburg attended. Eckl said the
communication of the message is an aspect to clean water, most aren't thinking
“The pollution of our water has many
different sources and once of the largest sources is running off the land, our
property, our homes, our businesses and there are simple things residents and
businesses can do. They can change the way they take care of their yard. They
can change the way they take care of their dog. They can change the way the
build a construction site and it makes a really big difference,” Eckl said.
The tips that Eckl passed on in the two-day conference, Williams said, will allow Huntington to save money that can then
be directed to improving aging infrastructure that plays a role in storm water
“It’s really helped me to use the tools
that professionals use in marketing without having to use a lot of money coming
out of here, you know out of our storm water budget to get a consultant to do
it, he’s kind of taught us the little tricks of the trade and so it’s been
really, really nice,” Williams said.
Williams said those tips will be put to
use soon in messages to the people of Huntington.