OUTREACH AND EDUCATION – Part 1

 

 

Even the best plan for managing watersheds and controlling nonpoint source pollution cannot succeed without community participation and cooperation.  An aggressive public outreach and education program, therefore, is essential and must be nurtured.  The following education and outreach strategies and ideas would, if implemented, raise the community’s consciousness about the importance of water quality and the watersheds draining to Long Island Sound and the Hudson River.  These strategies and ideas have been endorsed by the Bronx River Watershed Coalition.  In the sections following these recommendations, the Bronx River Watershed Coalition has noted existing and proposed organizations that could implement the recommendations.  It is hoped that additional organizations also could assist in carrying out these recommendations.

 

A.               BRONX RIVER WATERSHED COALITION

OUTREACH AND EDUCATION STRATEGIES

 

The first step in furthering the education and outreach goals of Bronx River Watershed Coalition: target audiences should be identified and carefully assessed.  The second step: specific activities matching their interests should be designed.  For example, stream and pond sampling for water quality and aquatic animals is a great way to involve and educate teenagers.  Westchester County’s Citizens Volunteer Monitoring Program (CVMP) exemplifies such a water quality monitoring program conducted by volunteers with assistance and coordination from staff of the Westchester County Department of Planning.  Utility bill inserts that have tips on reducing pollution at home are a great way to educate adults.  Because some people respond better to certain “messages” than others, education and outreach programs should incorporate several different strategies, each intended for different segments of the audience.  In general, therefore, variety and flexibility should be the rules when developing and implementing education and outreach programs.

 

Two partners with the Bronx River Watershed Coalition, the Kensico Environmental Enhancement Program (KEEP) and Bronx River Alliance, both currently implement outreach and education strategies suggested in this chapter.  In addition, the Westchester County Department of Planning has received a grant to conduct a polluted stormwater outreach and education program in coordination with many of the county’s municipalities, including those in the Bronx River watershed.

 

The following are recommended strategies and ideas that any individual, organization, governmental agency or others can use to further the public’s knowledge of nonpoint source pollution and its relationship to water quality:

 

Bronx River Watershed Coalition - Ongoing Efforts

 

·        Regularly scheduled meetings should be held among representatives from the participating county and state agencies, municipalities, and not-for-profit organizations of the Bronx River Watershed Coalition, or any other appropriate intermunicipal committee.  The Bronx River Watershed Coalition action plan for implementing this public outreach and education program can be discussed at these meetings.  It is important to begin with small steps that lead to accomplishing the overall goal, otherwise volunteers may lose interest and drop out. Realistic goals need to be set which take into account the time each person is willing and able to commit to projects relative to the time it takes to successfully fulfill a particular objective. Even small gains show tangible results, so that participants remain encouraged and are more willing to tackle the bigger tasks.

 

·        Instill a sense of proprietorship for the watershed in the people who live and work in it. Without community support by citizens who understand their individual responsibilities regarding the community’s needs, remediation efforts will progress only slowly and sporadically.

 

Media

 

·        Ask local newspapers (weekly and daily) to run a regular column (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) on nonpoint source pollution control activities (municipal and county activities).  These columns can feature municipal, county, state and federal activities as well as those by private businesses and industries. Other techniques include press releases and photographs with captions.

 

·        Ask local radio stations to run short, regular features (public service announcements) and/or have guest speakers on regular talk shows.

 

·        Ask local cable stations to further the ideas described in this chapter.  Suggestions include a sixty-second public service announcement focused on nonpoint source pollution control efforts in the community.  Another suggestion would be a cable television show aimed at educating the public about nonpoint source pollution and steps the average citizen can take to reduce this type of pollution at home.

 

·        Submit articles to newsletters, such as those for governmental and civic associations, chambers of commerce, or corporations, or initiate a new newsletter for inclusion with other municipal mailings that focuses on nonpoint source pollution and ways residents can assist in its control.

 

·        Develop public educational fliers and posters for display at kiosks in malls, train and bus stations, public facilities, and other locations.  Brochures, posters, booklets, etc. have been produced through the Westchester County Soil and Water Conservation District.  These can be viewed online at www.westchestergov.com/waterquality.

 

·        In conjunction with municipal and county parks and recreation departments, initiate a campaign to minimize chemical use and other adverse landscaping practices.

 

·        Use public gatherings, club meetings, special conferences, and workshops to explain the water quality protection program for the Long Island Sound and Hudson River watersheds in Westchester County, customizing the message to the audience.  A good model for this type of presentation is that given by Nonpoint Source Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO), which has given presentations to several communities in the watershed.  A speakers bureau of municipal and county officials also should be formed.  Face-to-face communication with a specialized audience provides a powerful opportunity to deliver a message, answer questions, and clarify ambiguities.

 

Corporations/Businesses

 

·        Identify corporations/businesses in the Bronx River watershed and approach them about co-sponsoring polluted stormwater educational activities from printing publications to implementation of best management practices on their properties (minimization of landscape maintenance chemicals, establishment of vegetated buffers next to water resources, adoption of stormwater management practices, etc.).

 

·        Draft sample inserts for bills (water, electric, tax, etc.) that describe polluted stormwater pollution control options for residents (fertilizer and pesticide use minimization, soil erosion and sedimentation control, buffer corridor protection, septic maintenance, etc.).

 

·        Approach private golf courses about nonpoint source pollution control issues, landscaping practices, and implementing best management practices.

 

·        Approach and meet with golf course and landscape/lawn care industry leaders and organizations about nonpoint source pollution control issues, landscaping practices, and implementing best management practices.

 

·        Approach small businesses, possibly through the Chamber of Commerce, about their role in controlling nonpoint source pollution. Businesses should strive to implement some prevention measures for which they can receive positive public relations. Encourage mention of the prevention measures that have been implemented in its newsletter and press releases.

 

Targeted Education

 

·        Educating young people about nonpoint source pollution and its influence on water quality and fresh and salt water ecosystems can best be achieved by coordinating educational efforts with grade schools.  If school districts understand the intrinsic value of making this part of a science curriculum, future generations may better understand and appreciate the value of protecting and improving water quality – and ways they can help improve water quality.  Each Bronx River Watershed Coalition liaison, or designated representative, should meet with the superintendent of schools or other school official from each school district to put forth the idea and initiate efforts to begin incorporating nonpoint source pollution education in the curriculum.  Water quality monitoring has been successfully undertaken in several of the county’s schools already, but other tools and approaches also are possible.

 

·        Involve grade school students in preparing and giving presentations on student environmental activities before appropriate municipal boards and commissions.  The Town of Yorktown has initiated such a program for its students.

 

·        Host workshops targeting members of municipal planning, zoning, conservation and other boards as well as staff involved in land use planning and decision-making.  These workshops would focus on topics such as ordinances related to water quality protection and the need for enforcement and consistent implementation.  They also would focus on the need to balance economic growth with a healthy environment and the importance of best management practices, such as erosion and sediment control and stormwater quantity and quality control, and ecological and water quality principles, such as naturally vegetated buffers and stream management.

 

·        Develop a handbook for municipal boards and commissions describing how to incorporate nonpoint source pollution control strategies into local land use guidelines, policies and laws.

 

·        Ask garden clubs and the landscaping/lawn care industry about developing a public education program on topics such as landscaping and lawn care practices.  In addition, ask Cornell Cooperative Extension Service to use “Sound Gardening” as a pilot program in a few watersheds of the Long Island Sound watershed.

 

·        Initiate an annual certificate award program for corporations, schools, municipalities, etc., that implement a nonpoint source pollution control project. This type of program will broaden the visibility of these projects, recognize good work, and gain a variety of advocates for the program through these conservation awards for young people, public service awards, and participation and sponsorship awards. Possible award names, patterned after the Environmental Leadership Award in Harrison, include: Champions of the Environment Award, Environmental Achievement Award, Clean Water Award, and/or Environmental Partner Award.

 

·        Develop a circular to foster public awareness about the need for and importance of natural buffers and stormwater management basins, emphasizing scientific support.

 

·        Support the Westchester County Soil and Water Conservation District’s efforts to involve public and private high schools in the annual Hudson Valley Regional Envirothon and New York State Envirothon.  The Regional Envirothon is usually held in Dutchess County, where up to two teams from each participating high school compete.  The teams are tested in indoor and outdoor settings on their knowledge of environmental issues, and each year a new special topic is incorporated into the testing. 

 

Environmental Organizations and Citizen Groups

 

·        Encourage municipal staff and volunteers to attend educational conferences and seminars on water quality related topics.  For example, the Westchester County Soil and Water Conservation District conducts periodic seminars, which traditionally draw a large audience to hear subjects of a technical nature.  Request that the District focus future seminars on implementing best management practices to avoid nonpoint source pollution.  Other groups which host annual or bi-annual conferences, particularly those dealing with water-related issues, such as the Savewater Symposium or the WaterWise Council, should be asked to include the topics of nonpoint source pollution control and watershed management in future conferences. These groups reach a diverse audience.

 

·        Request that the Westchester County Soil and Water Conservation District continue to focus future programs or workshops on polluted stormwater control and stormwater management.  With grant money and other funding that may be obtained, the SWCD should continue to conduct training sessions on water quality.  Other efforts should include a traveling exhibit to bring to the various forums or conferences attended by the SWCD, as well as distribution of fact sheets on nonpoint source pollution and articles in a quarterly Environmental Bulletin.

 

·        Encourage the SWCD and Westchester Municipal Planning Federation (WMPF) to work together on issues of nonpoint source pollution control and land use planning education, including making them part of the agenda for the next series of the WMPF-sponsored “short courses.” This is an effective way to continue disseminating information to municipal officials, local government staff, planning and zoning boards, and others who generally attend the WMPF courses.

 

·        Coordination with the Long Island Sound Study’s public education and outreach efforts should be an integral part of the Bronx River Watershed Coalition program. Coalition representatives should meet with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff to dovetail the Long Island Sound Study and Bronx River Watershed Coalition education and outreach efforts to avoid duplication and maximize the products of these programs.

 

·        Any Bronx River Watershed Coalition municipalities, such as Yonkers and Mount Versnon, which do not have Conservation Advisory Councils (CACs) or a similar municipal board or commission that can be a vehicle for environmental education, should form such a board or commission.  A board or commission of this type would be the best liaison between the Long Island Sound Study and Bronx River Watershed Coalition, and can best coordinate public information and participation activities.  The CACs should closely communicate with other municipal boards and commissions to share information and elicit support for nonpoint source pollution control programs.

 

·        Work with citizen groups in the community. Environmentally conscious citizens have made great contributions to local programs nationwide. Groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Watch, Save the Sound, Inc., and the Streamwalk Committee in Seattle, Washington, have become integral parts of the water quality programs. Citizen groups can collect valuable information on basic parameters - they can monitor and identify problems, collect surface water samples, and measure turbidity.

 

Outreach and Volunteerism

 

·        It is important to identify, collect, and, if necessary, generate materials which can be used for a “traveling road show” or exhibit.  A moveable exhibit could be taken to festivals and other events as well as workshops or seminars where diverse groups can view the exhibit and take home pamphlets, brochures or other material for further education.

 

·        Outdoor billboards and other signs advertising the importance of citizen participation in watershed management and nonpoint source pollution control have been successfully used in some communities. For example, the City of Springfield, Illinois was the first city to use billboards paid for by federal Clean Water Act grants. The first billboard message, “We All Live Downstream, Protect Your Watershed,” was displayed in the spring of 1995 at 14 locations throughout Springfield. A second billboard message, “A River Runs Through It, Protect Your Watershed,” was displayed at a new set of 14 locations in the summer of 1995. During the summer and fall of 1996, new messages have been displayed at the same 28 locations. In some states, it is common to see watershed signs on highways which advise motorists that they have entered the watershed area of a specific river or water body. Similar signs should be installed throughout the Bronx River watershed as another way of raising people’s consciousness.

 

·        The importance of volunteers in watershed education cannot be stressed enough. Activities that can be carried out by volunteers include the Earth Team’s Streamwalk (see stream restoration chapter), storm drain stenciling, certain components of wetland restoration and stream bank stabilization projects, distribution of informational literature, water sampling and quality monitoring, and ecological assessments. Volunteers not only provide the labor necessary to undertake these projects but also act as ambassadors to other groups and advocates of watershed protection. As a result of their volunteerism, they not only become educated themselves but also educate others.

 


OUTREACH AND EDUCATION – Part 2

 

A.      GENERAL EDUCATION AND OUTREACH STRATEGIES

 

Watershed management programs, especially those whose goal is to reduce nonpoint source pollution, should implement education strategies to inform residents about their role in controlling nonpoint source pollution. The people who live and work in the villages, towns and cities that make up the watershed should be targeted.

 

Part of the Bronx River Watershed Coalition’s strategy to control nonpoint source pollution, i.e., polluted stormwater, is to educate the public about this form of pollution and how residents could help reduce it.  Bronx River Watershed Coalition recommends that public education initiatives teach residents about the issues and problems of nonpoint source pollution and involve them in the solutions.

 

The Long Island Sound and Hudson River watersheds in Westchester County are diverse in their landscape character and development and of the people who live and work there. The Bronx River watershed, a subset of these larger watersheds, is equally diverse.  This diversity should be carefully assessed when developing an information dissemination and education strategy.  An initial step in developing a public awareness program is to frame the message, determine what information about nonpoint source pollution is to be conveyed, and stress the message at every opportunity. The tone and level of complexity of the message depend on the community’s composition and sophistication. The program should include concrete information about using and disposing of toxic substances in homes yards, farms, and work places.

 

Polluted stormwater affects everyone in the community.  On the issue of control, business people, developers and homeowners each have an individual agenda.  A public awareness program should consider these individual needs and interests.  Messages and presentations should be tailored to specific groups, for example, school faculty, city employees, developers, public and private organizations, and youth groups.

 

The following groups should be involved in the public awareness strategy:

·        local government and community leaders

·        residential property owners and tenants

·        civic, environmental and other public and private organizations

·        business and industry leaders

·        grade school and college students and faculty

 

The table on the following page indicates the most effective use of various public education techniques.


 

 

PUBLIC EDUCATION TECHNIQUES

WATERSHED MANAGEMENT

 

 

METHOD

MOST EFFECTIVE USE

RESULTS

Newsletters

Announce meeting times and dates, update information, list issues to be discussed at upcoming meeting

Public awareness

Newspaper Articles

(same as newsletter) – Provide additional detail about local stories, photos of citizen activities, feature articles provide information about problems and solutions

Public awareness

Demonstration Sites

Exhibit innovative technology, and should be accompanied by signs, brochures or permanent on-site interpretive staff

Public awareness, knowledge, understanding

Printed and Taped Material (e.g., fact sheets, videos)

Explain new technology, describe case studies, provide training information for new employees, outline facts to stakeholders

Public awareness, knowledge, understanding

Signs

Mark watershed boundaries, identify critical areas, promote specific behaviors in specific places, identify cooperators in project, explain adjacent project and its best management practices (BMPs), provide interpretive natural resources information

Public awareness, knowledge, understanding

Meetings

Share information, plan actions, evaluate process

Public awareness, knowledge, understanding, desire/ability to act

Field trips

Observe the natural resources to be protected, view installed and functioning best management practices (BMPs), learn how BMPs operate, monitor BMPs for assessment or compliance

Public awareness, knowledge, understanding, desire/ability to act

On-site Inspections

Identify problems, recommend corrective actions, evaluate effectiveness of pollution controls, identify noncompliant stakeholders, educate individuals

Action

Training

Provide new skills to stakeholders

Action

Technical Assistance

Identify problems, recommend solutions, assist with installation of BMPs, educate individuals, evaluate effectiveness of solutions

Understanding, desire/ability to act, action

 

Source: Terrene Institute, Clean Water In Your Watershed: A Citizen’s Guide to Watershed Protection, 1991


Community Education and Citizen Involvement

 

Because nonpoint source pollution is a continuing issue related to development and individual lifestyles, a water quality program must be established and embraced to succeed. Organization and ordinances mean nothing without community support. The community must buy in and accept the program, just as it does a sewage treatment system.

 

To gain support, you must understand your community. Is your community small or large? Are residents primarily retired or parents with young children? Do residents commute to work or do they earn their living in the community? Do most residents stay in the community all year or seasonally? How much do residents know about nonpoint source pollution? How will they be affected by a nonpoint source management plan? How can they be expected to react to the proposed plan?

 

A public opinion survey or series of well-publicized public hearings throughout the watershed and in your immediate community will help you get to know the community and give you a basis for measuring public opinion.

 

·        Public awareness. Public information and education are important ways to curb nonpoint source pollution, since the solution lies largely in changing individual behavior and lifestyle. An information program must educate citizens about the problem and make citizen involvement part of the solution.

 

·        Framing the message. An initial step in developing a public awareness program is to frame your message. Determine what information about nonpoint source pollution you wish to convey, and stress this message at every opportunity. The tone and level of complexity of your message depend on the community’s composition and sophistication. The program should include concrete information about using and disposing of toxic substances in homes, yards, farms, and workplaces.

 

·        Targeting the audience. Nonpoint source pollution affects everyone in the community. On the issue of control, business people, developers, and homeowners each have an individual agenda. Make sure your public awareness program considers these individual needs and interest.

 

Tailor your messages and presentations to specific groups - for example, college faculty, city employees, developers, civic organizations, or youth groups. Involve environmental groups such as the Izaak Walton League, state associations of conservation districts, and other public or private organizations.

 

·        Reaching your audience. A targeted public awareness campaign uses a variety of tools to convey your message and attain your goals. Some of the tools include:

                       

 

 

 

·        Media. Techniques include press releases, articles, photos with captions, talk shows, news programs, public service announcements, newsletters, and public notices to publicize your message.

·        Awards. Broaden your visibility, recognize good work, and gain a variety of advocates for your program through conservation awards for young people, public service awards, and participation and sponsorship awards.

·        Meetings. Use public gatherings, club meetings, special conferences, and workshops to explain your program; customize your message to the needs and interests of your audience.

·        Speakers’ Bureau. Face-to-face communication to a specialized audience provides a powerful opportunity to deliver your message, answer questions, and clarify ambiguities.

·        Educational Materials. Brochures and posters obtained from EPA, the state water authority, or other groups can be distributed to schools, civic groups, and businesses to further support your message.

 

·        Using a variety of information/education tools. The numerous techniques available to make your community aware of the nonpoint source problem and its solutions are limited only by your imagination and budget. See the following list for ideas to ensure support from the community:

 

·        publicize your program in all possible ways - use fact sheets inserted into utility statements, as well as flyers, radio, television, newspapers, public hearings, group meetings; develop personal contacts with reporters – always offer story and photo opportunities.

·        form communities to work on specific aspects of the program; include representatives from all interest groups.

·        offer field trips to groups. Seeing the watershed’s problem has much more impact than reading about it.

·        distribute drafts of the plan to interested groups for review.

·        set up meetings using existing organizations such as 4-H or Extension Service and organize community informational watershed workshop.

·        involve schools - make presentations to classes or conduct field trips.

·        set up nonpoint source pollution displays at every opportunity - county fairs, local Earth Day events, conferences, school events.

 

·        Citizen monitoring. Environmentally conscious citizens have made great contributions to local programs nationwide. Groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Watch and the Streamwalk Committee in Seattle, Washington, have become integral parts of the water quality program. Citizen groups can collect valuable information on basic parameters - they can monitor and identify problems, collect surface water samples, and measure turbidity.  Similarly, the Westchester County Citizens Volunteer Monitoring Program is an example of a successful regional program here in Westchester.

 

Local officials see two advantages to citizen monitoring. First, these activities are an economical way to gather high quality data. Second, citizen monitoring is a valuable tool to build grassroots interest in water quality issues. In addition to helping officials identify and avert potential water problems, citizen groups build public support for nonpoint source programs and remedial actions, when necessary.

 

Despite these benefits, a volunteer program needs careful handling. Everyone is not suited to be a volunteer monitor. Groups and individuals may have difficulty staying motivated throughout an entire sampling project.  Inappropriate training or procedures can result in useless data.  Sampling also involves a slight risk of injury; local governments must have sufficient liability insurance to cover such situations.

 

Consider the following recommendations concerning volunteer monitoring programs:

 

·        Citizen monitoring projects should not stand alone but should be integrated into a total water quality management program.

·        A qualified water quality specialist should develop the sampling design, analyze the data, and prepare the final report.

·        A qualified water quality specialist should train and supervise volunteers in the field, review data frequently, and work closely with the state water quality agency.

·        The sample design should be relatively simple and not dependent on precise measurement.

·        Volunteers should be carefully recruited and trained; periodic training may be necessary to replace dropouts and refresh monitoring skills of current volunteers.

·        The water quality specialist should encourage frequent reports, personal presentations at group meetings, and media coverage to keep the group motivated.

 

The Missing Link - Community Partnership

 

The optimum situation - informed watershed planning to identify and correct existing problems and prevent future problems - will achieve the best environment possible. But all planning, no matter how complete, must be done with your community, not for it.

 

The advantages of the prevention/restoration ethic are impressive and would tempt any community - clean, usable water bodies attract business and recreational dollars and measurably improve the economic health of the community. Remedial measures, designed to address current environmental conditions, can return water resources to an acceptable purity level.

 

However, billions of dollars are lost on public works projects, declining property values, and missed revenues from tourism, recreation, and other uses because of the missing link - community partnerships.  Without community buy-ins by educated citizens who understand their individual responsibility and the community’s needs, remediation will need to be repeated in each generation, if not more often.

 

Planning and prevention within the total community and watershed area comprise a vital permanent solution to water quality issues. In some cases, eliminating the cause of pollution may not be enough - the water body will still need rehabilitation. In other cases, communities must restore the quality of a water body even as they prevent further harm. Therefore, plan for the optimum, seeking guidance and cooperation from your community along the way. When the community agrees to implement the plan you know will work, you will have served them - and the environment - well.