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Features - Champions of Innovation

Alan Harris gives a friendly voice to water management as an advocate, educator and writer covering irrigation innovation.

Kristen Hampshire | July 10, 2014

 

Alan Harris recalls an early lesson in how water distribution impacts supply. He was visiting his grandparents’ farm in rural North Carolina and the family drove into town for the day. “All of the social media – you know, the people at the barber shop – were talking. ‘Do you think it’s going to rain again? We haven’t had much rain in a while.’ ‘No. Sure haven’t,’” he says.

Then, a public service message blasted on a loud speaker warning that the town water tank was literally running dry: Conserve! Don’t take a shower or flush the toilet.

He and his family returned to the farm, about 10 miles from the small town, and his mother said, “Alan, go take a shower.”

What? Alan couldn’t believe this. “I said, ‘We just heard we are running out of water,’” he says. “My mom replied, ‘That’s in the city. We are out here on the farm and we have a well, so we have plenty of water.’”

Now fast-forward 45 years. Harris’ career in landscape architecture includes garnering numerous national and state awards from PLANET and the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), for which he also served as a chapter president.

Then Harris, director of sales operations at ValleyCrest, received a phone call from Richard Restuccia, the company’s director of water management solutions. He asked Harris if he’d write a blog about water.

That’s because Harris has a smart sense of humor. ValleyCrest was looking for an entertaining, honest voice to highlight water management issues and educate the public. Restuccia told Harris, “We don’t want formal, politically correct writing – we want you to be a little bit on the edge.”

No problem for Harris.

“I try to bring a little humor into the blog when I can,” says Harris, who has been working on valleycresttakeson.com for about four years now. He writes about innovation (water conservation in the cloud), best practices (how to fix a leak this week), trivia (why water is better than helium), and everything water management.

His voice has gone viral. His Twitter handle, @h2oMatters, has 850 followers. A single post might be shared in 20 different countries and the blog receives more than 10,000 page views each month. “All we write about is water,” he says “We don’t get away from water.” And people are tuning in.

Meanwhile, Harris edits and distributes Water Matters Weekly. He also teaches a class at the WaterSmart Innovations conference about how to reduce water use through social media.

Water does matter to Harris. He works tirelessly to help others understand why conservation and management practices are critical. “There is a real possibility that communities will turn on their faucets one day and nothing will come out,” he says. “That is something that very few people in the U.S. have experienced.”
 

Water smart messaging. Harris says more communities are starting to get real about water waste and warn residents that the supply really could tap out.

“It’s like having a milkshake,” he says. “If you have it to yourself, you have more than you want. If you share it with someone and put another straw in there, it goes a little quicker and you might not feel like you have all the milkshake in the world. Put three, four or five straws in there and everyone begins trying to drink up as much as they can. As there are more straws that go into the available water source, everyone wants their piece of it and there will not be enough to go around.”

This is how Harris levels with readers and breaks down complex water issues so people can understand the big picture.

Harris realizes he’s writing about the same topic every day, so he keeps up on the latest water management stories.

He reads about water for at least an hour every day. He follows other social media authorities on water. He's particularly fascinated by green infrastructure as a component of water management.

Harris is impressed by how far the industry has progressed since he began designing irrigation systems as a landscape architect 30 years ago. Then, the cutting-edge concept was zoning. Today, we’re talking about controllers in “the cloud.”

As for Harris, he’s forging a fresh path in the green industry as an educator and advocate for water management and communicating about H20 issues.

“I’m in this position now where I want to enjoy my life and my career, and writing about water,” he says, adding that he has accomplished his professional and personal goals and is embracing this new chapter.

For now, Harris says, “I just want to make water interesting and entertaining.”

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