This report examines the impact of stormwater runoff on the environment, and details the 2016 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit that towns in Central Massachusetts must comply with. It presents various education campaigns, outreach methods and how our group worked to create a toolkit to inform and educate residents in these towns.
Stormwater starts as precipitation. Stormwater runoff is when that water flows across impervious surfaces, such as streets and sidewalks, into storm drains or directly to bodies of water. A common misconception is that this water gets filtered but that is not the case. The water flows directly to local waters, pollutants and all. These pollutants can include oil, road salt, fertilizer, and animal waste.
In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) released an updated version of their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit from 2003 containing stringent stormwater management requirements that municipalities must meet, within six control measures or requirements. Our project focuses on three of them: 1. public education and outreach; 2. public involvement; and 6. good housekeeping and pollution prevention.
The goal of our project was to assist 30 town municipalities in Central Massachusetts in compliance with the 2016 MS4 permit while also educating residents on stormwater and its management. We worked in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) and the Central Massachusetts Regional Stormwater Coalition (CMRSWC).
In order to achieve our goal, we had nine objectives. Objectives 1 and 2 were about researching what stormwater runoff is, its impacts, the MS4 permit, and the problems municipalities face in trying to comply. This was primarily accomplished through scholarly articles and resources from the USEPA. Later, we got additional information through interviews with experts on everything from stormwater to environmental laws. Objectives 3 and 4 look at past educational campaigns. We looked at how and why other educational campaigns chose their target audiences as well as learning outcomes, later concluding how effective these choices were.
In objectives 5 and 6, we developed the campaign branding and educational materials. We created surveys to see what branding options would be best received. There were two surveys, one for those involved in stormwater management and one for the general public. From these, we created recommendations on the branding of a stormwater education campaign. We also looked at other stormwater education resources that already exist and used them as models to develop educational activities and materials. Lastly, objectives 7, 8, and 9 were to test, evaluate and revise our materials. We tested out materials at the Boys and Girls Club in Worcester, Leicester Memorial School in Leicester, and at a holiday craft fair, stART at the Station, in Worcester. We looked at how the message was received, and used that to provide recommendations for revisions and future purposes of our materials.
We found there are many stormwater education resources already available, but it is hard to determine which are effective. We came across a lot of materials created by various organizations and communities during our research. Even more materials were provided to us through our interviewees. With so many available resources, why was the issue of stormwater runoff unknown to the general public? We came to the conclusion that finding good resources that fit an educator’s needs can be difficult because there is no central location for such materials. Materials have to be visible or promoted to become used.
The best way to reach the target audience of residents is through their kids. We found that many past effective educational campaigns have had a portion that was aimed at children. One example is the Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle campaign, which created school materials such as backpack mail (USEPA, 2016d). Children would come home and then be able to influence their parents based on what they learned. In the same way, our campaign has a toolkit built for schools, as we are hoping to achieve the same goal. In our interview with Jeffrey Howland, Town Engineer for the town of Shrewsbury, MA, we were informed that it can be difficult to change the habits of adults, but children are much easier to influence. This idea was supported in our interviews with Fred Civian, Stormwater Coordinator of MassDEP, Stefanie Covino, Project Coordinator at Mass Audubon and Christina Chappell, Manager of Education at the Ecotarium.
Through our previously mentioned branding surveys, the results showed that the Soak Up the Rain logo (seen in Figure 1 on the right) was most preferred. While Soak Up the Rain did win an average score for the survey sent to stormwater management experts, it was not as clear cut. Therefore, we conducted another survey with the public at the stART at the Station craft fair where we asked members of the public to rate five logos
from most to least favorite. Considering this data, it becomes clear that the Soak Up the Rain logo was the favorite choice, holding 40% of votes (as seen in Figure 2).
With the amount of resources available, we recommend that the CMRSWC share resources internally
and externally while also bring in new materials. The most important part of making sure resouce materials get noticed, is connecting the information seeker with the correct material. The resources should be organized by who they are designed to target, and who they are designed to be used by. Categories or a searchable database of resources would allow the members of the CMRSWC to easily find resources they could deploy to raise awareness.
We also recommend the CMRSWC create a statewide education campaign with the statewide stormwater coalition. As noted previously, a large number of stormwater education campaigns already exist in Massachusetts. Having so many campaigns creates duplicated work and does not foster familiarity for branding among residents. Having one unified campaign would allow easy sharing of relevant materials while also creating recognition for the brand.
At the moment, there are five stormwater coalitions in the state of Massachusetts. In order to maintain consistency and simplify where information can be found, we recommend that a statewide campaign website be created. This would allow all materials to be in a single location and allow people to access information in a straightforward fashion. Assuming all coalitions are willing to do their part.
We also recommend using the campaign title “Soak Up the Rain” with the Soak Up the Rain logo. The results of our two surveys point us to the conclusion that Soak Up the Rain brand holds the most appeal both as a title and as a logo. Based on our data, we recommend that if the CMRSWC is looking to unify the stormwater educational campaigns with the statewide coalition, that it looks towards working with the USEPA to support Soak Up the Rain as the official campaign of Massachusetts.
In addition to our findings and recommendations, we created toolkits for use in schools and at local community events. These toolkits began as a recommendation from our sponsors, but became a main deliverable for our project.
As a result of our two trials with the school toolkit at the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester and Leicester Memorial School, we recommend that the school toolkit include: in-class and take-home activity books, backpack mail, pictures to show the students, stickers, and a copy of our video to supplement in-class activities.
As a result of piloting the local event toolkit at the stART at the Station event, we recommend that the local event toolkit include: a banner, pamphlets, Enviroscape (a scale demonstration of stormwater runoff in residential, industrial and rural areas) or similar display, and giveaways.