Sweetwater Authority

Chula Vista, California, United States

Sweetwater Authority (SWA) serves drinking water to 190,000 people in Southern California. The utility wished to build community support for investment in infrastructure. Raftelis assisted SWA with revising its rate structure to pass-through all wholesale water purchase costs from the San Diego County Water Authority. The Authority has very wide swings in water purchase costs since during wet years all of SWA’s water comes from local reservoirs. During dry years it has to purchase most/all of its water. SWA had postponed rate increases two years in a row because of affordability concerns. SWA has public relations staff and a good communications foundation but sought specialized assistance in messaging and community outreach specific to their rate study. Raftelis provided a strategic communications plan, guidance on messaging strategy and community outreach tactics. The utility approved a five-year rate increase after an extensive communications and outreach campaign to build community support for infrastructure investment. This effort earned both the AWWA Public Communications Award and the California Association of Public Information Officers EPIC Award.

Sweetwater Authority later engaged Raftelis to develop a five-year master strategic communications plan to create a visible and supportive public profile for the utility. This project began with an audit of all print and digital communications and interviews of key stakeholders and employees to assess the brand gap that existed between internal and external audiences. The comprehensive communications plan provided detailed strategies and tactics that focus on SWA’s communications goals of creating a new level of dialogue and engagement with stakeholders in their diverse community; ensuring the utility speaks with one voice; and providing consumers and stakeholders with more opportunities for input. Results are highly important to SWA, and the plan has metrics built in so that staff can assess their progress.

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