QT & RT Win National Contest They Never Entered

June 4, 2012

The 34,000+ residents of the 18951 zip code all had a chance to be contest winners, thanks to the environmentally-motivated actions of a handful of them. But it took a while to figure out exactly what was going on. And the answers still aren't all known.

On May 3, Quakertown Borough was named a winner of the National Mayor's Challenge for Water Conservation, a contest backed by several well-known sponsors to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Federal Clean Water Act, and promote water and resource conservation. The goal was admirable, but the marketing was rather confusing, and information spotty.

Consider that the winner was called "Quakertown", but was actually the entire 18951 zip code, which includes Richland, Milford, and portions of Springfield, Haycock, East Rockhill and West Rockhill.

None of these municipalities actually has a mayor. And neither QT Borough Manager Scott McElree, nor RT Manager Steve Sechriest, was even aware of the contest which, from the website's "Message to the Mayors", sounded like the mayor, or a municipal leader, had to fill out a petition form to enter his/her town:

"Renew your commitment to sustainability for your city and earn bragging rights about winning the Mayor's Challenge for Water Conservation, a non-profit competition, and se (probably "see") which leaders can best inspire their residents to make an easy-to-use online pledge to reduce water and energy usage during Earth Month.

It only takes a minute, and best of all, there are no additional taxpayer costs or city staff time required to take the challenge. We'll provide everything you need. Email us for our online mayors petition to sign your city up immediately."

A separate press release stated "Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles and Mayor Peter Carlisle of Honolulu were among the first city officials to accept the challenge. Other mayors are following suit by issuing council resolutions, creating steering committees, and using the city's 'highest' seat to urge their residents to save water, energy, and reduce pollution."

The instructions to the public read:

"Take part in a free, online pledge to conserve water, save money and reduce pollution - and win thousands in prizes March 30 - April 30 at mywaterpledge.com.

Mayors across the country will be asking their residents to make a free, online commitment to drastically slash water and energy use across the nation by taking part in a national contest this Earth Month - and in return residents in the cities with the most participation qualify to win a new Toyota Prius Hybrid, water saving fixtures and hundreds of other prizes.

Last year's challenge in Southern California alone resulted in a total pledged savings of over 897,000,000 gallons of water with 3,184,095 pounds of trash kept from landfills and 27,936,170 pounds of CO2 emissions reduced.

This year's challenge is nationwide so let's come together to do our part to help our planet with an even greater number of pledges. Be sure to tell your mayors, friends, families, neighbors and everyone you know to take this free, online pledge to conserve water and energy this Earth Month.

1. Click here to download a letter to send to your mayor.

2. Find your mayor's contact information on your city website.

3. Email the information to your mayor and/or city clear. (yes, it says "clear", whatever that is)

4. We'll take care of the rest!"

And - somehow - we won!!! The 18951 zip code placed first in the category of cities from 30,000 - 100,000 in the northeast part of the country, beating out Hamburg, NY, and Fort Lee, NJ. We were the only PA town in the top 10 in our category.

Other PA cities finishing in the top 10 of their categories were Vandergrift (third in the 5000-30,000), Erie (third in the 100,000 and over), and Reading, Bethlehem, Pittsburgh, and Allentown, seventh through 10th in the 100,000 and over. No data was given on the number of respondents from any city or town, but Steve Creech, a Challenge spokesman, estimated that 20,000 people in the US participated by taking the pledge. A press release from sponsor Rain Bird irrigation company stated " U.S. residents in more than 1,000 cities have committed to reducing their water usage by more than 4 billion gallons."

If these figures are accurate, the average participating city had about 20 entries. Creech placed the "Quakertown Community" participation at about one percent. The 2010 census showed that the 18951 zip code has a population of about 34,000. One percent would be 340, seventeen times the national average! Are we good, or what!!

There was also supposed to be a drawing for 1200 prizes, worth more than $50,000, including a Toyota Prius Hybrid, custom-designed sprinkler systems, water-saving showerheads, water-saving toilets, and 1000 gift cards for Lowe's. These were divided among the 12 winning zip codes - three categories in each of four geographic regions.

Creech explained that the winning families weren't limited to just those who pledged to conserve. "We tried to create a community service program that encouraged people to think more proactively about the impacts they have on water consumption. All the residents from the winning cities are entered into a prize pool, so everyone has the same chance of winning based on the total number of entries. I think Quakertown's good fortune is more a matter of a few people probably being lucky enough to catch wind of the program."

That "good fortune" is, at least for now, problematical. The winning residents from across the country were supposed to be announced on May 22. Repeated emails to Creech requesting the names of our fortunate locals have not been answered.

And the question remains - if no one in Qtown or Richland filled out a "Mayor's Petition", how did we "win" at all??

Creech did provide that answer. "Having an actual mayor was not a precondition of a city/town winning the challenge. The managers in the townships may very well have been unaware of the challenge, in spite of our best efforts to spread the word about it. We promoted the challenge through numerous channels e.g. facebook, about.com, AOL, EPA Office of Water newsletter, National League of Cities newsletter, USA Today, so any resident with a ZIP was welcome to make a water reduction pledge."

He also explained the process: An individual simply had to enter their zip code, make a pledge, and that person was technically automatically competing on behalf of their city. "All the pledges in every zip code were combined and measured as a percentage of the total population within that zip code and a winner was chosen. We called it the Mayor's Challenge because we were challenging civic leaders to foster a more dynamic relationship between city leadership and residents about conservation. If city leaders wanted to carry the mantle and share with their residents, that was terrific."

"The participation was very, very low in the northeast. For example, it took more than 700 pledges to win on the west coast, whereas Quakertown won its regional category with a handful - which I'm sure will be to the chagrin of neighboring townships."

Hopefully some of that "handful" were rewarded for their environmental efforts, even if their good deeds were never actually made public.