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Development of Public Communication Toolkit for Desalination Projects

Project: 12-02
Type: Communications Tool
Year Released: 2014

Program: Principal
Funding Partner:
Total Investment: $112,875.18 (Cash: $79,242,18, In-Kind: $33,633)

Principal Investigator: Patricia A. Tennyson, Katz & Associates, Inc., and Mark Millan, Data Instincts Public Outreach Consultants


As many communities consider desalination as a sustainable water source that can bolster their water portfolios, public and private agencies proposing desalination projects face questions about energy usage, brine disposal, and impacts to marine life. Any new water project—whether it’s a dam, reservoir, or recycled water project—can face significant hurdles when it comes to public acceptance.

Goals and Objectives

The project provides municipalities and other water purveyors with a roadmap to craft their own strategic public outreach plans in support of a desalination project. The aim was to shorten the desalination learning curve for agencies as they undertake these projects and provide useful information based on the experience of other desalination projects in the U.S. and around the world.

Research Approach

The primary source of research for “Public Communication Toolkit for Desalination Projects” was the information gathered during the 12 one-on-one in-depth interviews conducted with project managers, communications staff and others closely associated with desalination projects in the United States, Australia and Spain. The information provided critical first-hand experience and knowledge of successful – and not so successful – communication and public outreach tools. We also conducted a wide-ranging search for communication tools (white papers, reports, and outreach materials), videos and websites that have been utilized by desalination organizations and public agencies to communicate about their specific projects and the desalination process in general.

Findings and Conclusions

The communication toolkit includes a variety of documents and materials that will assist in shaping effective public outreach programs. Materials that are included draw from the experience of water purveyors that have proposed desalination projects in California, Texas, Florida, Australia, and Spain and provide useful real-life experience about what has worked and what hasn’t.

The materials in the Communication Toolkit are both “hands-on” and “virtual.” There is a menu of items that includes downloadable materials and a database of resources to assist project supporters in their research into what strategies have proved to be effective. The toolkit can be used in the following ways:

  • Combined Research Executive Summary: An executive summary of the project research from one-on-one interviews and secondary research provides project proponents with a summary of first-hand experiences and a guide to the literature available on key topics.
  • Strategic Outreach and Awareness Plan: The Strategic Outreach and Awareness Plan serves as the framework for all the communication efforts that take place in support of a desalination project.
  • A variety of collateral materials: A collection of sample fact sheets, FAQs, glossary, and other materials that can be used as templates for projects or as planning and development tools for public communication pieces tailored to specific projects.
  • How to Convey Critical Messages for a Desal Project: This consists of a PowerPoint presentation and an accompanying paper for presentation in a workshop setting at a conference or scheduled meeting.
  • Link Library to helpful research documents: This database provides access to a variety of research that has previously been conducted, as well as lists of groups and organizations that have been active in supporting and opposing projects.
  • Video Library: A library of videos and useful video footage that can be used by agencies as part of their video production. Short, informational videos have proven effective in raising public awareness of water supply issues and interfacing with new media.

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