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Lake Champlain is a treasured resource for recreation, tourism, and drinking water situated in New York, Vermont (U.S.), and Québec (Canada). Because its shores span two states and two countries, management strategies for the lake require strong cross-boundary partnerships and cooperation. In recent decades, increased prevalence of harmful cyanobacteria blooms has impacted public health and recreation. A lake-wide cyanobacteria monitoring program was established in 2001 with an emphasis on water sample collection and analysis to inform management strategies. In 2012, this program transitioned from laboratory-based analyses at a limited number of locations to a visual assessment protocol validated by water samples. This transition opened the door to more effective and widespread monitoring, communication, and inclusion of a greater number of monitoring locations and stakeholders. Today, through a unique partnership of community scientist volunteers, public beach managers, nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies, a comprehensive network of trained cyanobacteria monitors generates timely data on water quality conditions to relay critical public health information. The majority of these reports are provided by trained community scientist volunteers, strengthening the geographic coverage of the program and the environmental literacy of lake users. This program now trains hundreds of community scientists, documents thousands of water quality condition reports annually, and communicates cyanobacteria conditions to the public via an online Cyanobacteria Tracker map. In this article, we describe the evolution of this successful program, discuss key findings from analysis of these volunteer-collected data, and suggest how similar programs could be effectively developed in other regions.
Community science projects offered in urban areas may be particularly effective at addressing environmental problems and engaging people in science, especially individuals whose identities have historically been underrepresented in the field. In this project, we worked with individuals from a racially diverse, low-income community in San Diego, California to conduct community science to: 1) test a conceptual program model aimed at engaging diverse communities in science, and 2) contribute to scientific knowledge about the inputs and accumulations of trash in an urban watershed. While the program model did well at bolstering environmental stewardship, recruitment, and short-term retention of community members as project participants, it was not as effective at building science understanding, interest in science, and awareness of doing science, indicating a need for a mindset approach. Despite this, the data collected by the community between 2014-2018 revealed in-depth information about the spatial and temporal distributions of trash, including the identification of three main debris inputs: encampments, illegal dumping, and storm drain flows, as well as the validation of global trends of a predominance of plastics across waterways and through time. In a few instances, community stewards became community scientists—the quantity and quality of data collected improved, and community members presented results to authorities who responded with concordant management actions (e.g., help with cleanups, outreach to unhoused communities). Based on project outcomes, our revised community science program model includes a focus on strengthening a science mindset, in which even short-term science interventions that improve the recognition of science, a sense of belonging, and access to mentorship may have meaningful long-lasting effects on increased participation in science.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality facilitates the Clean Rivers Program where many of Texas’ waters are monitored for various parameters. A common approach to address water quality impairments is to develop and implement Watershed Protection Plans, where a key management measure is to increase the adoption of best management practices through existing government programs that provide technical and financial assistance. A key role for watershed managers during implementation is to raise awareness that technical and financial resources are available to assist producers with adoption. Outreach approaches thus far have included in-person education programs, attendance at local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) meetings, newsletters, and other efforts that have only had minimal reach. As a result, we initiated a mass mailing campaign where 4,921 landowners within Lavaca County, Texas were reached four times in approximately six months with the same message. Partnering with the local SWCD and United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service offices, the number of individual best management practices were acquired for the current and previous five federal fiscal years to measure changes. Results suggest directly mailing educational materials to landowners is an effective outreach approach to increase the adoption of best management practices. Model results indicate a significant 300% increase in adoption of practices compared to historic levels.
Society’s use of plastic is increasing, while the ability to properly manage plastic waste is decreasing. In response, improved waste management systems and the adoption of reusable products made from sustainable materials are needed. Municipal governments in the United States are beginning to institute policies reducing unlimited free access to plastic products such as bags, straws, and Styrofoam. However, some state governments in the Great Lakes region, and elsewhere, have responded by making these pro-environmental policies illegal. Such policies shift the onus of using less plastic to local businesses and conscious consumers. In response, this project sought to determine the effectiveness of a plastic bag ban, supported by targeted education and outreach, at several local businesses in northeast Ohio. Results suggest that the initial implementation and non-enforcement phase of the bag ban did not lead to a reduction in the use of plastic bags. However, survey respondents indicate they are supportive of policies reducing accessibility and unlimited availability of plastic bags. Results further show most people have access to their own reusable bags and support businesses who charge for, or no longer offer, plastic bags. In conclusion, voluntary reduction of bag use by customers is not effective and store policies or legislation is needed to reduce the use of plastic bags.
As water funds and other watershed investment programs expand around the world, there is growing interest in designing equitable programs that provide both upstream and downstream benefits. While research demonstrates that diverse values underlie upstream participation, existing communication and outreach materials from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, development banks, and others tend to highlight the goals of downstream actors (e.g., improving water supply for cities), with little attention to upstream perspectives. We present a case study in response to this gap, where we collaborated with a water fund and a river users association in Colombia to co-produce a website entitled “Putting Suppliers on the Map” in which interviews and photography illuminate the perspectives of upstream participants and the intermediary organization. The website offers multiple lessons for communication and environmental education in water funds by shifting focus to the motivations of upstream participants, including trust-building among upstream and downstream participants via intermediary actors, and informing downstream water users of the essential role of these processes for program success. Analyzing the website testimonials, we show that the vast majority of participants were motivated not only by overlapping instrumental and relational values associated with conservation, but also by a variety of personal and community goals. We found that the largest barrier to participation over time was the need to build trust between the water fund and rural communities and to align water fund goals with participants’ motivations. By making visible the motivations and challenges of upstream actors, the website reverses the standard direction of environmental education (in which high-level actors or downstream groups educate upstream residents). In-so-doing, the website aims to help downstream actors envision more productive and equitable ways of interacting with upstream participants.
It is important for stakeholders, scientists, industry, lawyers, and decision-makers to understand the varying approaches to regulating drinking water contaminants. To increase awareness and understanding among stakeholder audiences of the legal framework for drinking water protection, the National Sea Grant Law Center (NSGLC) at the University of Mississippi School of Law has developed and implemented research and extension projects for lead, nitrates, and per-and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS). The NSGLC’s mission is to encourage a well-informed constituency by providing legal information and analysis to the Sea Grant community, policy makers, and the general public through a variety of products and services. For each contaminant, the NSGLC conducted legal research to identify relevant laws, regulations, policies, and court decisions to gain an in-depth understanding of the existing legal framework. The NSGLC then translated its information on the current legal framework, identified gaps, and potential solutions into a variety of outreach programming. For each of the relevant drinking water contaminants, the NSGLC has taken different outreach approaches. For lead, the NSGLC has worked with an interdisciplinary academic team to conduct community-based research and outreach directly to families. With nitrates, the NSGLC has focused more on professional development for attorneys, natural resource managers, and other policy makers. With PFAS, the NSGLC is proposing a hybrid approach, drawing on lessons learned from its previous projects and the COVID-19 pandemic, to disseminate information to both professionals and communities. This case study will synthesize key findings on the legal overview, potential legal issues, and outreach efforts for lead, nitrates, and PFAS.
Since 2006 the Watershed Game, a role-playing simulation and serious game focused on managing nonpoint source pollution at the watershed scale, has been used across the U.S. to improve understanding of, commitment to, and involvement in watershed-scale management. Stakeholder or student participants manage a fictitious watershed to meet a “Clean Water Goal.” Designed for freshwater watersheds, the game is available in local leader and classroom versions, and play is led by trained facilitators or educators. To inform the expansion of the Watershed Game to include coastal watersheds, a needs assessment was conducted to identify water quality and management challenges in coastal regions, using the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic as a case study. Several methods for assessing critical coastal management challenges and key land uses to prioritize in the game were employed: a review of reports, expert focus group, survey of Gulf and South Atlantic regional experts, second survey of coastal experts from the National Sea Grant Network to verify widespread applicability, and finally pilot tests of the draft game. Results showed high agreement among assessment methodologies regarding the most critical coastal challenges and important land uses to feature in the game. As a result, the Coast Model of the Watershed Game focuses on three primary nonpoint source pollutants, excess nitrogen, excess phosphorus, and excess sediment. Additionally, results indicated a need to integrate a new game element, resilience to flooding, which has been added to the challenge of winning the game by meeting the Clean Water Goal.
Many of today’s water resources challenges are wicked problems, demanding innovative solutions across the science-policy-management nexus. Simultaneously, early-career researchers in water resources face a shifting professional landscape in which academic career paths are sparse but where versatile skill sets relevant to water resources issues in governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector are in high demand. Here, we describe an adaptable fellowship model that has proven to be a “win-win-win” for early-career researchers, government agencies, and universities tackling wicked water resources challenges in Wisconsin, USA. The fellowship program recruits post-masters and post-doctoral fellows to lead research on a water resources challenge identified as a high priority by a government agency partner. Fellows receive mentorship from both academic and agency mentors and co-produce actionable knowledge. Costs and administrative responsibilities are shared by the university (Sea Grant/Water Resources Institute) and the host agency. Since its inception in 2015, this program has trained 24 fellows across 11 host programs on issues that range from highly quantitative water quality and hydrogeological questions to qualitative assessments of fisheries management and coastal hazards. In this arrangement, fellows receive collaborative and cross-disciplinary training that prepares them well for diverse career paths, government agencies benefit from new knowledge targeted at pressing water resources management questions, and university institutions accomplish their missions of training researchers and developing actionable knowledge. We describe this model’s applicability to other regions and institutions. Ultimately, this type of program benefits society by building long-term capacity for collaboration which addresses wicked water problems.
The University of Minnesota Water Resources Center (UMN WRC) in collaboration with the Minnesota Stormwater Research Council (MSRC) has developed a robust program to advance urban stormwater management and policy through the completion of research. Through this unique collaboration, stormwater professionals and researchers across Minnesota are engaged in multi-sector research to prevent, minimize, and mitigate urban stormwater impacts by studying existing and innovative structural and non-structural practices, policies, and management techniques. The center and the council have evolved a comprehensive approach by:
-Obtaining diversified funding resulting in an annual average $1M budget.
-Coordinating and building partnerships at local, regional, state, and federal levels to leverage stormwater research resources.
-Using the council to engage with stormwater researchers, professionals, policymakers, and stakeholders.
-Identifying strategic priorities through assessments of needed research (i.e., the Minnesota Stormwater Research Roadmap).
-Providing a process for prioritizing, soliciting, submitting, approving, and implementing stormwater-related research proposals.
The program also invests in technology transfer seeking the effective and efficient dissemination of research results to those who can best benefit from it. The council is an organization of stormwater professionals, practitioners, managers, engineers, researchers, and others established in 2016 to work with the center to facilitate relevant, applied research and support education and technology transfer. This paper summarizes the efforts of the program, the future outlook, and highlights the collaboration and the connection of the University and the center to agencies, local units of government, and private engineering consulting businesses, who all were integral to the success of the program.
Sea Grant programs, both separately and in collaboration, have supported growth of the off-bottom oyster industry in all five U.S. states in the Gulf of Mexico. Here, we review the history of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC) investments in research and extension to support the growth of this industry (particularly in Alabama and Mississippi). Notably, the integration of applied research with strategic extension efforts was essential to the success of this industry. The MASGC enabled the establishment of commercial off-bottom oyster aquaculture in Alabama and Mississippi using a series of strategic, outcomes-focused investments in applied research and extension efforts through an array of partnerships. In Alabama, the first commercial off-bottom oyster farm was established in 2009. The industry grew to 22 farms by 2020 with a farmgate value of nearly $1.5 million, employing over 30 full time equivalents (FTE). Over 12 farms have been established in Mississippi in the last two years. The MASGC also leveraged additional support from other funding agencies that has multiplied the outcomes and impacts.
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