Our Water Matters

Texas Runs on Water

With one of the largest and strongest economies in the world, Texas is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of growth. But as extreme weather events, record-high temperatures, and prolonged drought have become more frequent, experts and lawmakers are gradually reaching a consensus that the benefits of our economic success will increasingly hinge on water security.

“The future of water in Texas is the future of the Texas economy,” according to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. “Texans around the state are employing innovative strategies to turn our water challenges into opportunities. And that’s good for Texas.”

One such strategy is a “statewide water conservation awareness campaign,” as recommended by the Water Conservation Advisory Council, which was created by the Texas Legislature “to establish a professional forum for the continuing development of water conservation resources, expertise, and progress evaluation of the highest quality for the benefit of Texas — its state leadership, regional and local governments, and the general public.”

In an interview with “Our Water Matters,” Sarah Schlessinger, chief executive officer of the Texas Water Foundation, stated that, “In 2018, a group of partners reinitiated a conversation on the need for a statewide water campaign … [and] Texas Water Foundation has since taken the lead in that effort, developing a statewide campaign concept inspired by the success of Don’t Mess with Texas.” Schlessinger, who began her career in international development and disaster response, spent several years working in West Africa and Haiti, where she first “became interested in the role water plays in how societies function and how water policy can affect who has access to water and what it means for people.”

Since taking the helm of the Texas Water Foundation, a statewide, nonpartisan nonprofit whose “original objective was to raise public awareness among all Texans regarding the vital role water plays in our daily lives,” Schlessinger has sought to apply her professional experience to the challenge of creating a water message that resonates. She explained the difficulty by pointing out that “unlike anti-littering messaging in Don’t Mess with Texas, the issue and the solution for water are not singular. Water is nuanced, location-specific, and the solutions require complex, integrated approaches.”

Based on statewide surveys, Schlessinger and her colleagues developed a concept called Texas Runs on Water. “It is an umbrella concept that exists throughout Texas, but allows localized campaigns to exist in different geographies, sectors, and industries.” Texas Runs on Water enables tailored messaging to specific groups and places based on “research that indicates that the more personal you make a campaign, the more likely someone is to … respond to it. In that way, we are mimicking the success of the ‘pride + action’ formula that ‘Don’t Mess’ used. Texans are responsive to the sense of local pride of place.”

The campaign’s initial launch in 2021 focused on three locations and gained millions of views in Houston, the Texas Hill Country, and the Panhandle. “We even had a viral TikTok video with 14 million views in just a few weeks,” Schlessinger enthused. “Texas Runs on Water [also] partnered with Houston Public Works to manage and support a ‘Houston Runs on Water’ campaign … to reach the entire Houston community. The partnership proved successful, earning nearly 9 million impressions and reaching a 21% brand awareness metric.”

Schlessinger feels that the campaign is off to a very good start because the campaign brand is becoming established in people’s awareness and this awareness can then be used to measure its impact on people’s actions. “The objective … is to use marketing to tie the role of water to the lives of everyday Texans and amplify the role of water in everything that we love about Texas,” Schlessinger said. “This is not just a water conservation campaign, it’s a campaign about prioritizing water security, built through our sense of local pride.”

Texas Runs on Water will expand next year to include markets in West Texas, San Antonio, and South Texas. The hope is that through this campaign all Texans will connect their pride of place to the water that keeps it running and take more steps to invest in it. Visit texasrunsonwater.org to learn how to become a cultural or arts ambassador for the campaign and find other ways to get involved. A short promotional film is also available on YouTube.

Trey Gerfers is a San Antonio native and serves as general manager of the Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District. He is also chairman of the Presidio County Water Infrastructure Steering Committee and board president of the Marfa Parks and Recreation Board. Trey has lived in Marfa since 2013. He can be reached at [email protected].