Sue G. Schneider, chief executive officer of Spartanburg Water in upstate South Carolina, is a high-energy, thoughtful individual who takes great pride in her work and organization. She is clearly a highly skilled manager, and Spartanburg Water is an exceptionally well-run water utility. Many water agencies struggle with their public relations and connecting with their ratepayers. Ms. Schneider’s interview reads like a how-to management guide on public outreach with wonderful ideas for any water agency. I loved her list of lessons learned that she brought to her interview:

  • Problems have solutions.
  • Our challenges are opportunities, and our opportunities are challenges.
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  • Communicate to your stakeholders and your customers. Often. And, on terms that they understand.
  • Complexity requires innovation and creativity.
  • Effective solutions are developed by a diversity of input and support. Use a team. Use everyone’s skills.

Many have likely heard some or even most of her lesson learned. However, Ms. Schneider puts them all to practice in a variety of creative public outreach efforts and nontraditional revenue sources. Her organization’s Water Matters Citizens’ Academy connects directly with the public through an ongoing, educational program. Choose Tap is another great outreach program that engages the public while providing a convenience through water bottle filling stations. Spartanburg Water’s network of 12 self-contained ice and water vending stations serves as another unique revenue source that helps the agency connect with the public. Clearly, Ms. Schneider understands the importance of getting Spartanburg Water’s brand in front of the public in as many helpful and positive ways possible. One of her best interview quotes that is a great example for all water agencies is, “A successful utility is one that is engaging both its employees and its customers, and this begins with a dialogue. We want to earn our customers’ advocacy.”

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader and Irrigation Leader magazines. He is also president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations, marketing, and publishing company 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