North Raleigh News

Johnny the Running Toilet, Sir Water Raleigh make debut

Johnny the Running Toilet makes an appearance at the Wendell Harvest Festival on Saturday. As a mascot for the city of Raleigh, Johnny reminds residents that leaky toilets can lead to higher water bills.
Johnny the Running Toilet makes an appearance at the Wendell Harvest Festival on Saturday. As a mascot for the city of Raleigh, Johnny reminds residents that leaky toilets can lead to higher water bills. newsobserver.com

A walking, smiling toilet and an equally friendly fire hydrant are hitting the streets to spread the word about water conservation.

Raleigh’s public utilities department has brought on two mascots to help turn heads at parades, festivals and sporting events: Johnny the Running Toilet and Sir Water Raleigh.

The department has budgeted $46,000 from its $500,000 annual outreach budget for the effort.

Johnny’s mission is to remind people to watch out for a leaky toilet, which can cause monthly water bills to jump from $50 to $500 and waste 200 gallons a day.

Utilities staffers have for years passed out pamphlets about how to spot a leak, but they hope a memorable encounter with Johnny can really flush the message down.

As kids eagerly high-five and hug the personable potty, “We give the adults brochures about different things about toilets,” utilities department spokeswoman Michele Burton said.

In addition to the leak warnings, Johnny also highlights what you shouldn’t flush: garbage, food – anything other than toilet paper.

The lovable loo will be joined by Sir Water Raleigh, a wide-eyed, beaming fire hydrant in sneakers and white gloves. A city website describes the pair as fraternal twins.

Sir Water reminds people of the water system’s crucial role in public safety: the thousands of hydrants citywide standing ready to help firefighters.

“He’s really there to represent readiness to serve,” utilities director John Carman said of Sir Water. “A lot of people don’t make that connection between our water system and public safety.”

Hydrants also help flush out the water system and also provide high-pressure water for street cleaning and construction projects.

Johnny the Running Toilet and Sir Water Raleigh are quickly filling up their schedules. From Zebulon Night Out to the Raleigh Veterans Day Parade, plenty of events are courting the toilet-hydrant pair.

The mascots follow in the footsteps of Neusie, a city-sponsored fish that urges people not to dump grease in drains. Neusie will still appear on utility trucks, but she doesn’t get out much these days.

“We couldn’t get anybody that wanted to wear that costume,” said utilities spokeswoman Carolyn Dumas. “The toilet and the hydrant seem to be a little more popular.”

Still, utilities employees don’t always have time to fill Johnny and Sir Water’s oversized sneakers. The department recently posted the job of “mascot performer,” offering $35 to $50 per hour to bring the toilet and hydrant to life.

Mascots are all the rage with public utilities these days. Richmond, Va., has Utility Buddy, an anthropomorphized natural gas meter sporting a hard hat. Omaha, Neb., is home to Thirstin, a grinning glass of drinking water.

And Johnny even has a toilet twin in Denver, although the walking commode there doesn’t have a face and has been known to scare children.

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