Water department gets creative

02/12/2014 12:00 AM

02/10/2014 12:59 PM

Not long ago, the Mansfield city water department was like any other – defined mostly by drab monthly billing statements and eye-glazing yearly water-quality report.

But now, go to any community event, and you’re likely to meet H20wen, a large water droplet-shaped mascot and energetic face of Water Utility Operations. Or find respite in the shade of H20asis, a boxy trailer called Hydration Station and equipped with foldout awning and spigots that dispense free, cold water.

Pick up the latest issue of the water-quality report and you’ll find it filled with color and slick graphics and quirky spotlights on the employees. Example: the billing staff, dressed in glitzy evening wear and featured as the “Real Housewives of Utility Billing.”

This recent creativity has not gone unnoticed.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, utility operations director Joe Smolinski announced that the department would receive the American Water Works Association 2014 Public Communications Achievement Award.

It’s awarded to only one city in each of three size categories and recognizes successful, innovative approaches to educating the public about water issues, establishing good public relations and supporting and expanding volunteer programs.

City Manager Clayton Chandler said it’s important to get people interested in water.

“The lack of water supply particularly in this part of the country has just forced us to look at not only every type of technology available, but to find a better way to do everything we do,” Chandler said. “And Joe Smolinski and his team are good at that.”

Chandler also credited the city’s communications and marketing department, headed by Belinda Willis, who sought out a collaboration with Smolinski’s predecessor, Bud Irvin, to energize the yearly water quality reports, also called Consumer Confidence Report.

“It is very scientific, and it can be confusing and very boring,” Willis said. “For the first few years we made small changes, added photographs, some easy-to-read information.”

They also started doing stories on employees to put faces on the operations behind the kitchen faucet, which she said generated “a great deal of positive feedback” from customers.

Then, for the current issue, they came up with the idea of a 12-month calendar with each month featuring a photo of a group of employees in a scene from a mock television reality show.

A twist on Duck Dynasty showcased four of the men with the dirtiest of jobs -- climbing in and out of water and sewer pipes making repairs.

“At the end of the day, they are literally covered in mud,” Smolinski said. “They are affectionately known as the Mud Ducks.”

Hence, Mud Duck Dynasty – with a contest. All four men were shown with long, thick beards, but only one beard wasn’t Photo-shopped into place. (That one belongs to Clint Harvey.)

“The funny thing is,” Smolinski said, “we are required every year to put out a water quality report, and unfortunately in years past, people would look at it and think of it as junk mail, or immediately recognized it as a regulatory document -- and it goes right in the garbage. We wanted it to be something that would catch their attention.”

Now the staffs are planning for the next issue.

“We’re going to go with game shows this time,” he said.

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