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Kids getting water-saving education

Water officials are teaching schoolchildren about conservation through a spoof of the Three Little Pigs.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 25, 2001

Water officials are teaching schoolchildren about conservation through a spoof of the Three Little Pigs.

LARGO -- The Big Bad Wolf is on a rampage, tearing through a crowd of schoolchildren in pursuit of Homer Hogg.

But in this version of the story, B.B. Wolf chases the pig not because he's a tender, juicy morsel but because Homer is . . . for shame . . . a wasteful water pig.

"I'm big. I'm bad," Wolf tells children Thursday at Frontier Elementary School. "And wasting water, yeah, makes me mad."

They have water cops patrolling the streets. They're spending $300,000 on a massive media blitz. But now officials at Pinellas County Utilities have decided to get serious: They're trying to convert the folks who can plead, nag and charm you into conserving water.

Your kids.

"They become the water police," says Rick D'Onofrio, alter ego of Russell Hogg. "They really do."

That's why the Hoggs have brought their 30-minute musical, The Water Pigs, to Pinellas. Stages Productions, a children's theater company based in Indian Rocks Beach, first wrote and began performing it in Hillsborough County schools two years ago.

Pinellas County Utilities heard about it and decided to co-sponsor shows on this side of the bay, sharing the $25,000 expense with the Pinellas County Arts Council and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Stages is performing at various Pinellas elementary schools all month.

That's why Brian Bowie, 11, and Sarah Solon, 10, are howling along with the Hoggs this Thursday morning, flinging their hands in the air with a wail each time the pigs mention the Big Bad Wolf.

They hear about Russell Hogg's endless mud baths and how Homer flushes the toilet just to watch the water swirl. But in between these antics, the sensible one in the bunch -- Hillary Hogg -- explains how she not only builds her home of bricks but also equips it with faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, low-volume toilets and rain-sensing sprinklers.

Eventually, Russell and Homer abandon their water-wasting ways and are spared from sure death at the claws of the Big Bad Wolf when he notices their changed behavior.

"I don't want to eat you," he tells the surprised porkers. "I just want to teach you. I've been a vegetarian for years."

Brian and Sarah give good reviews.

"Homer the hog, he was funny," Sarah says.

"It was really fun," Brian says. "It gets the attention of kids."

Sarah says she's learned about low-flow shower heads. Brian says he's learned about landscaping with plants that need little water. And they're going to tell their parents about it.

Targeting kids to change parents' habits is an often-used and effective tool, says Phil Davis, president of the Davis Agency in Seminole.

"Remember "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute,'?" he says. "My generation grew up with pollution and earth issues."

There's been Smokey the Bear, along with anti-smoking campaigns and school recycling programs targeted to kids. And they have worked, Davis says.

"It's building a consensus among people, so that you're collectively shamed if you don't do the deed," he says.

And nobody wants to be shamed in front of their kids -- including Davis. His children lecture him if he doesn't turn off the water while he's brushing his teeth, thanks to an annoying little jingle sung by a certain large purple dinosaur.

So it's not surprising that the utilities department also has sponsored student contests for conservation T-shirts and bumper stickers, says department spokesman Norm Roche.

"The earlier you begin to instill good conservation measures, the better," he says.

And this fall, the Water Pigs will return to Pinellas County schools, where they will sing:

"Listen piglets, we must conserve

It's time to use our heads

By saving water we protect the earth

We'll save our watershed."

More lowdown on low-flows

Wait a few weeks if you want to install a low-flow toilet for less.

Pinellas County commissioners approved a rebate program May 15, but the county plans to pay an outside company to administer the program, which will give county residents $100 for installing a low-flow toilet. The toilets use 1.6 gallons of water per flush, replacing 7-gallon water-guzzlers.

For now, the county has been taking names and phone numbers of people who call about the program, said Todd Tanberg, the county's alternate water sources director. But until the contractor is hired, he advises people to wait.

"My direction is there will be no retroactive rebates," he said.

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