“Many hands make light work” may be the appropriate slogan for the Clean Water Partners (CWP), a group of municipalities in Northern Virginia that banded together to create a regional stormwater education program that is celebrating its 12th successful year.
Started in 2006, the CWP has a shared goal to work together to keep residents healthy and safe by reducing pollution that reaches local streams, which then flows on to pollute the Chesapeake Bay. Polluted and uncontrolled stormwater is the major cause of poor water quality in Northern Virginia. The partners include the Cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Falls Church; the Towns of Herndon, Leesburg, Vienna, and Dumfries; the Counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Stafford; the water authorities of Loudoun and Fairfax; Doody Calls Pet Waste Management Co.; the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC); George Mason University; the Coastal Zone Management Program; Fairfax and Prince William Counties public schools; and the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District.
The CWP is coordinated by the NVRC, a council of 13 local governments just outside Washington, DC. NVRC’s roles and functions focus on providing information, performing professional and technical services for its members, and serving as a mechanism for regional coordination. CWP is a perfect example of such coordination.
The Clean Water Partners named the campaign “Only Rain Down the Storm Drain,” and the partners use it to satisfy municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) Phase l and Phase ll permit requirements for stormwater education and documenting changes in behavior.
“Pooling our outreach dollars allows the partners to achieve more with their funding, and also provides a consistent message and brand throughout the large metropolitan area of Northern Virginia,” says Aileen Winquist of Arlington County, one of the founding members of the partnership.
The partners work together to educate the public about stormwater to help residents take direct action to reduce pollution. To meet this goal, CWP members:
- Identify high-priority water-quality issues for the region
- Identify the target audiences for outreach
- Educate the region’s residents on simple ways to reduce pollution around their homes
- Monitor changes in behavior through surveys and other data collection techniques
- Pilot new cost-effective opportunities for public outreach and education
“At the beginning of each year, we meet as a group to determine the high-priority water-quality issues for the region and who the target audiences are,” says Corey Miles, senior environmental planner, NVRC. “In 2017, the high-priority issues were nutrients and other chemicals that run off lawns, bacteria from dog waste that is left on the ground, and used motor oil and paint that are dumped into storm drains and streams.” The target audiences included homeowners who perform their own lawn care and other do-it-yourselfers, vehicle owners who perform their own maintenance or restoration, and dog owners.
The campaign uses the storm drain marker with the blue and green shad as its logo.
Several of the jurisdictions in the partnership have Phase II MS4 permits, which require them to reach 20% of each target audience. Over the past 10 years, CWP has used several types of media to reach people. For the first five years, radio ads were the primary method of reaching the target audiences. As the method of communications evolved, so did the campaign. Traditional media outlets (network television, radio, and print media) are not seeing the widespread viewer-, listener-, and readership that they did five years ago. People are increasingly consuming video on mobile devices through streamed content. Starting in 2013, the campaign began using a multimedia approach to reach audiences with messages about how to reduce stormwater pollution.
The annual CWP regional stormwater education campaign uses many tools to expand its messages to the public about water pollution. “We have the Only Rain website [www.onlyrain.org], six video advertisements in English and Spanish, digital banner ads, and printed promotional materials, and we took over the entire sign-in page on the Xfinity.com website for two days,” says Miles. In 2017, the campaign delivered 52,680,562 television and digital impressions. These impressions were delivered on a carefully selected group of 38 cable TV networks including six Spanish-language networks and premium digital video to ensure maximum delivery to the target audiences across all devices.
Every year, a follow-up survey of 500 residents allows CWP to determine the effectiveness of the annual campaign. The total cost of about $100,000 is shared by the partners based upon population numbers in their respective jurisdictions.
Through campaign awareness, CWP has learned that many residents are not aware of what they can do to reduce water pollution. The online survey provided some interesting highlights:
- In 2017, 24% of respondents recalled seeing the CWP ad after watching the video. This is a significant increase from 2016 (16%).
- Of those who recalled the ads, 19% state they now pick up their pets’ waste more often, 6% state that they now properly dispose of motor oil, and 14% state they plan to fertilize fewer times per year.
- When shown the Only Rain Down the Storm Drain logo, 62% of the respondents recognized it, compared to 54% in 2013. This increase is statistically significant and indicates that awareness of the logo has increased over time.
- The four channels that were most strongly associated with recall of the ad were Cartoon Network (43% of those who watched this channel recalled the ad), Animal Planet (36%), History Channel (34%) and National Geographic (32%). In fact, the highest number of impressions (2.8 million) was delivered on Cartoon Network.
- 38% of the respondents felt that they did not take action to protect clean water because they didn’t know what to do.
- The majority of respondents (64%) indicated that email newsletters with reminders and quick tips and/or online resources would help them take action to protect clean water.
- Interestingly, the number of respondents who prefer to receive information from online sources decreased from a high of 57% in 2012 to 40% in 2016. Television (19%) and newspapers and community newsletters were equally preferred information sources. This suggests that a future outreach effort might include reaching homeowners through their community, civic, or homeowners associations.
- 70% of respondents would be more likely to take actions to reduce the amounts of pollutants they personally put into storm drains after learning that polluted water runoff is the number one cause of local water pollution.
- 90% of respondents stated the actions of individuals are important in protecting water quality in local streams, the Potomac River, and the Chesapeake Bay.
- 95% believe it is important for local governments to spend more money on protecting water quality.
“The Clean Water Partners invites inquiries from jurisdictions that may wish to begin similar regional stormwater educational campaigns,” says Miles.