This post originally appeared in the Sept. 29 Morning Report. Subscribe to the Morning Report here.
During a midnight scroll through the Instaverse, an ad from San Diego County Water Authority featuring a platinum-blonde, surfer dude appearing very interested in a body of water caught my attention.
It wasn’t just any platinum-blonde, surfer dude. It was Jon Foreman, the front man for Switchfoot, the Christain-ish rock band from San Diego.
Questions swirled, “fumbling my confidence and wondering why, and how, in the world this passed me by?”
That’s one of the lines from a Switchfoot song. It fits.
Clicking the ad took me to a Water Authority web page, “On Tour with Jon Foreman,” full of videos dating back as early as 2018. There was Foreman, sporting steampunk goggles and a lab coat, swirling test tubes with Vista Irrigation District’s water distribution supervisor; Foreman at Twin Oaks Valley Water Treatment Plant; at the Olivenhain Dam; talking with Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, discussing how water is important for San Diego’s bustling biotech and agriculture industries.
In one video, Foreman strokes an acoustic and talks with guitar designer Andy Powers, who says his business in El Cajon is made possible by Water Authority’s “good, clean water supply” for the guitar-making process. “What happens if you don’t have that water supply?” Foreman asks.
“We go elsewhere,” Powers said.
But my favorite Switchfoot Water Authority promo is Foreman’s visit to the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which turns ocean water into drinking water but is also San Diego’s most expensive water source and part of the reason why our water rates are some of the highest in the state and country. After a sip of the finished product Foreman adds, “I have been in the ocean many times and it does not taste this sweet…I’m thankful our county is doing this.”
I asked Water Authority to explain what I was seeing. The agency said the public outreach and education campaign with Foreman was born out of an effort to reach the 25- to 45-year-old demographic who, increasingly, are “influential homeowners, business professionals and community leaders.”
It’s the first time Water Authority featured a local celebrity in its public campaigns, the agency said. Water Authority got the idea after Municipal Water District of Orange County forged a partnership with surfer Rob Machado.
“We were looking to do something similar by working with a San Diegan who could speak with credibility about the importance of understanding local water issues to young and mid-career adults,” wrote Mike Lee, a Water Authority spokesman in an email.
The agency used some state Department of Water Resources grant funding via Metropolitan Water District to pay for it. The total cost of the three contracts for Foreman’s talent and various video production companies was $198,400, about 62 percent funded by state money. (Foreman apparently only took a small fee, about $5,200 from the last two contracts.)