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ALEXANDRIA, VA.—Levees break, pipes burst, and bridges collapse. Infrastructure is on the public’s mind like never before, but will water be left behind? Unlike roads and bridges, much of the United States’ water and wastewater infrastructure is buried and out of sight, going largely unnoticed until a rupture brings the issue to the surface.

To prevent major catastrophes, water professionals are working to raise public consciousness and educate decision makers about the gravity of the threats and need for investment. The Water Environment Federation (WEF), with support from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), launched an on-going public education initiative called Water Is Life, and Infrastructure Makes It Happen. Through combined resources and coordination with similar educational efforts, communities can take advantage of attention-getting communication tools to address the infrastructure crisis. All bill stuffers, door hangers and ads are offered free and on-line at www.waterislife.net. The outreach instruments allow municipalities to build local support for the infrastructure challenges ahead whether necessary funding comes from rate increases or local or federal taxes.

The centerpiece of the national, multi-media education effort is a major public television documentary called "Liquid Assets: The Story of Our Water Infrastructure," which will generate some "buzz" and provide a focal point for outreach. This "Inconvenient Truth" of water and wastewater infrastructure needs begins airing in October and explores the history, engineering, political, and economic challenges of water infrastructure. It challenges communities to engage in local discussions about their own water and wastewater issues.
The documentary was produced by Penn State University Public Broadcasting (PSPB) to inform the public about the critical role that water infrastructure plays in protecting health and promoting economic prosperity. Covering a full spectrum of infrastructure problems, it features Boston; Philadelphia; Milwaukee; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Pittsburgh; Herminie, Pa.; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; and Atlanta. A trailer of the film can be viewed at http://liquidassets.psu.edu/index.html.

In addition to the film, PSPB is offering an on-line Community Toolkit to help municipalities, community groups, PBS member stations, and civil engineers facilitate and promote discussion locally. Water professionals can offer context, historical perspective, and engage communities with meaningful debate toward solutions. The on-line community toolkit will include the following:

  • chapter summaries and a glossary;
  • ideas for meetings and events;
  • "Liquid Assets" DVD table of contents;
  • marketing materials, including ads, logos, invitations, and press releases; and
  • links to other resources on water infrastructure.

Looking to leverage the educational value of "Liquid Assets," WEF, NACWA, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), and a number of other sister organizations and consultants have joined together as outreach partners for the documentary. They are mobilizing their own memberships to work together at the local level to maximize exposure and messaging through ads, forums, and radio interviews. 
A free webcast about "Liquid Assets" (Part II) will be aired on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. EDT. WEF, PSPB, and ASCE (the primary outreach partner) representatives will offer tools and models to kick off local publicity. A limited number of complimentary DVDs with the full-length documentary, chapters, and two shorter videos to show at meetings will also be offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. To register for the webcast or sign up for the DVD, visit www.waterislife.net.

—Lorraine Loken, senior manager of public communications, WEF.