The Choptank Coastal SEES Project: Changing minds and attitudes in an atmosphere of mistrust and increasing environmental regulations
The Chesapeake Bay’s declining water quality has resulted in EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). These regulations require county-specific Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) to reduce N, P, and sediment in streams using Best Management Practices (BMPs). Farmers are increasingly required to implement BMPs on their farms, whereas residential accountability for BMP implementation is primarily in urban areas. In addition, there is inadequate testing of the effectiveness of BMPs at watershed scales. This has led to mistrust within the agricultural community that only farmers are being held accountable and are at the root of the water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay. Our study is evaluating if BMPs improve water quality at the watershed scale. We are recruiting stakeholders (farmers and residents) within four small agriculturally dominated watersheds in the Choptank basin. To assess the attitudes and impediments to BMP installation, opinion surveys are being conducted annually. The surveys are based on standardized questions from SIDMA (Social Indicators Data Management and Analysis Tool) with additional questions specific to our project. With outreach and education efforts, we are evaluating if stakeholder attitudes improve and if increased stakeholder participation results in additional BMP adoption in the three experimental watersheds.
In 1.5 years, we have conducted 47 outreach and educational events in which we have recruited 29 farmers and 8 residents from the four watersheds. The agricultural community has responded positively (62% cooperation), whereas the residential community has shown little interest in working with us to date (3% cooperation). Key to engagement with the farmers was the initial contact made by the Caroline County UMD Extension, an individual trusted by the farmers, whereas we do not have a similar trusted individual or community organization for the residents in these rural watersheds. In year one, baseline stakeholder surveys were conducted to evaluate stakeholder opinions, and we determined that the major impediments to BMP adoption for the farmers were cost and time for implementation. We have formed three stakeholder teams for the experimental watersheds and recently completed our second round of annual educational meetings. At the end of year one, watershed water quality reports were shared individually with the engaged farmers and conducting of year two surveys are 87% complete with resident surveys yet to be conducted. The results of this work will evaluate if education on water quality results improve stakeholder attitudes and will determine impediments to BMP adoption.