By Ashley Claire Simpson
You can’t learn everything on the internet. While a Google search may yield an inordinate amount of information on seemingly every topic, there are certain concepts you can’t fully grasp without human guidance. Fortunately for local citizens, the Prince William County Service Authority (PWCSA)—the region’s dominant water and wastewater management services provider—makes it a priority to educate the public about what goes on behind the spigots.
“We provide drinking water and treat wastewater for about 348,000 residents of Prince William County,” said Kathy Bentz, PWCSA’s deputy director of communications. “We were established 35 years ago and are now the largest combined water and wastewater authority in Virginia. Part of our Service Authority Board of Directors’ vision is to provide exceptional customer service and to focus on community outreach.”
PWCSA executes a number of outreach programs to educate people about its operation. During the summer of 2018, the Service Authority held its second annual Water Academy, a five-week intensive educational program for interested locals.
“The Water Academy was a natural extension of our existing community outreach programs like classroom education, community presentations and tours,” Bentz said. “We were already participating in a lot of community events. We have a mobile unit called the Aqua Van with taps that we can hook up to
hydrants and provide water while we engage with locals. We’re all about helping people understand who we are and what we do in the community. We’ve for a long time had a classroom focus, too. Last year alone, our classroom presentations reached about 9,000 students in Prince William County Public Schools.”
Going with the Outreach Flow
PWCSA provides services to 92,000 residences and businesses. As simple as the water system may seem to the people in these homes and offices, it actually would take going through a program like the Water Academy for most of them to understand how drinking water is distributed for everyday access and how wastewater is treated and returned to the environment.
In the works for quite some time, the Water Academy took form in 2017 as a unique classroom opportunity for adult learners to learn the intricacies of an age-old system. “Of course we want people to turn on their taps in the morning without having to think about it, but we also want to show people what happens behind the scenes,” said PWCSA Copywriter Kipp Hanley. “So many people who have attended the program have told us, ‘Wow, I didn’t know how much is involved with water that comes from the tap or what happens to it after a toilet flushes.’”
Clean, running water has been standard in American households for longer than a century, and now, 2018 Water Academy graduate Chris Caseman has a newfound appreciation for what many simply see as a utility. “I’ve been a county resident for 38 years, and I was astounded at how much I had taken for granted,” Caseman said.
Navigating the Complexities of Water Management
According to biologists, a human couldn’t survive longer than a week without water. Digest that, and it’s easy to see that it is vital for laymen to understand the services like those provided by PWCSA. “We have a few goals with the Water Academy,” Bentz said. “They are to make sure our customers and community understand what the Service Authority does; highlight the Service Authority’s role in sustaining our community’s economy, health, and environment; and to encourage Water Academy participants to help others understand the Service Authority’s mission.”
The Service Authority will continue to keep the Water Academy classes small; collaboration is not only possible, but encouraged. “Our goal is to have as many as 30 participants each year, so the class remains small enough for everyone to participate and be fully engaged,” Bentz said. “The best part is that they represented all facets of the community—students, young professionals, teachers, engineers, business owners, retirees and community volunteers.”
And the results are in. The Water Academy’s success is undeniable. This year, Prince William County awarded the PWCSA with a 2018 Green Community Award for the reach it has achieved through the Water Academy. For more information, visit pwcsa.org/water-academy.
Ashley Claire Simpson ([email protected]) is a corporate communications professional by day, but her real passion is learning more about this community and the world by writing. She has been crafting features and human interest stories since her college newspaper days at the University of Virginia.