Public outreach is a must for irrigation districts. By getting to know ratepayers and community members, educating them, and solving their problems, an irrigation district can save time and money, gain goodwill, and even find new employees. In this month’s Irrigation Leader, we talk with managers, public relations staff, scientists, and communications professionals about how districts can boost their public outreach efforts.
In our cover story, we interview Shane Leonard, Simon Wallace, and Allison Brague of Arizona’s Roosevelt Water Conservation District. By hiring Mr. Wallace and Ms. Brague to create his customer service department, Mr. Leonard was able to better address customer concerns— but perhaps more surprisingly, he saved money. The district has succeeded in reducing repetitive calls, educating new customers, and keeping ratepayers informed via social media.
We also speak with Dr. Chris Henry of the University of Arkansas. Dr. Henry and his colleagues realized that they could get farmers excited about their irrigation water management research by establishing a contest in which farmers competed to produce the most crop with the least amount of water. This unique public outreach strategy garnered interesting results on the application of water saving techniques.
Dana Hernandez of Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) tells us about her district’s community outreach events, which allow customers to ask about water delivery and billing. KID also does after-school presentations at local schools. Justin Harter, the general manager of the Naches- Selah Irrigation District, also does twice-a-year in-class presentations to local seventh graders. Colorado-based chemigation company Agri-Inject also presents to local students—but in this case, by bringing them into the factory for tours and presentations.
Finally, we speak with communications professional Keith Yaskin about why irrigation districts need a media plan. As Mr. Yaskin explains, the time to think about how your agency will respond during a crisis is now—not when it happens.
It is clear that public outreach is of crucial importancefor irrigation districts. This issue of Irrigation Leader brings together such a variety of perspectives that I am sure that even districts with a well-developed outreach program will find something new to consider.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.