Motivated by recent politicization of the term ‘water quality’, I ethnographically explored ‘water quality’ told through the eyes of community members who interact with aquatic resources daily: local fishers, scientists, and policymakers. I also facilitated a workshop of fishers and scientists to identify shared pressing water quality concerns and plan a research agenda designed to address those concerns. Both methods help approach the case study of water quality as a sticky environmental problem using a broader context incorporating people’s values and belief – the lens with which they frame the problem and approach solutions. The workshop was designed to apply at least some of these perspectives to a practical outcome of answering new questions.
Interviews and participant observation with fishers, scientists, and policymakers revealed an underlying divide in approaching water quality: as a technical, quantifiable problem or an ecosystem-based problem with solutions outside engineering. Though each individual has nuanced perspective based on personal experiences, this divide fell with scientists on the technical definition, fishers on the ecosystem-based, and policymakers in between. The workshop revealed participants address the same issues with different terminology; they agreed on a small monitoring project to test shared theories about water quality impacts in the region. Participants were also asked to diagram the contributing factors to water quality and interviewees were asked to describe connections between water quality and ecosystem function. Both these data sets contributed to my characterization of the estuarine hydrosocial cycle, or a recharacterization of estuarine hydrology to include impacts from human activities, both positive and negative.