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Developing an Outreach Strategy

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Developing Municipal Outreach Programs


Sample logo for a stormwater program.
Sample logo for a stormwater program. A logo helps to promote visibility of stormwater management in the community

Public education and outreach involves using effective mechanisms and programs, guided by a detailed outreach strategy, to engage the public's interest in preventing stormwater pollution. A key factor to consider when developing a strategy is that the public has varying levels of background knowledge of both stormwater management and their role in reducing stormwater pollution. Hence you should take a multi-pronged approach to outreach efforts by (1) generating basic awareness of stormwater pollution, (2) educating at a more sophisticated level using more substantive content, and (3) building on existing recognition of the issue to prompt behavior changes that reduce pollution (or the opportunities for pollution).

The strategy should also specifically address the integration of public outreach with the implementation of other stormwater program management measures (like illicit discharge detection and elimination, construction site runoff control, and post construction-runoff control). This aspect of outreach could involve more substantive education, possibly short training courses, live presentations and slideshows, handbooks, posters with educational content and captioned illustrations, and Web-based training modules, or more websites with photos of good and bad practices.

The value of laying out a comprehensive outreach strategy is that the stormwater program manager can use it to focus the overall public education and outreach portion of their program - recognizing opportunities to leverage other programs or partner with community organizations, and invest in new program efforts for maximum effect.

Operating Plan

When structuring your strategy document, include sections that discuss the purpose and goals of the stormwater management program (specifically the public education and outreach component), background, objectives, and an operating plan of public education and outreach activities. Other elements common to a good strategy include:

  • A list of all partners that participated in the strategy
  • An executive summary
  • A glossary that includes definitions of any potentially unfamiliar terms and acronyms used in the strategy

To develop an operating plan, take into account these five components (1) Goals (2) Target Audiences (3) Messages (4) Format and Distribution (5) Evaluation. Resources are provided below for further treatment of this topic.

Your operating plan should highlight cross-linkages with other stormwater program (minimum measures) goals, showing how outreach is integral to reaching goals to reduce illicit discharges, reduce construction site runoff, and reduce post-construction runoff pollution. For example, in support of the illicit discharge detection and elimination measure, you may develop an educational section of your website that shows the public what an illicit discharge looks like, and supplement it with an online-reporting form and stormwater citizens - complaint hotline. These cross-linkages with other program requirements highlight efficiencies in your overall program, and the value of outreach.

Television Public Service Announcement on better auto care practices around the home.
Television Public Service Announcement on better auto care practices around the home


Multiple goals are common for an outreach strategy. You should match outreach goals with the goals of the overall stormwater program and its environmental and water protection concerns. With specific goals that dovetail with the environmental goals for the affected waterbodies, you can more efficiently spend dollars to reduce the pollution issue. If reducing nutrients in local waterbodies is a concern, outreach goals should address nutrients generated by the public. For example, you could target the public's gardening practices. An example of an outreach goal might be: "Increase residential awareness of nutrient runoff and encourage behaviors that will reduce nutrient pollution in local streams and lakes."

If the stormwater program goal is general water resource protection, you should consider how the public is affected and why they would care, as you develop outreach goals. For example, one goal might be to increase the public's awareness of the connection between protecting their rivers and lakes and improving their quality of life, recreational opportunities, scenic amenities, community value, property value, and public health.

Some other goals should address creating more institutional and community linkages to promote stormwater pollution prevention. For example, other city departments such as Solid Waste, Parks and Recreation, Transportation, or Schools, can help you promote the public's awareness of stormwater.

A business partnership program can create more opportunities for stormwater outreach and visibility and is another example goal. Business partnerships might be an ideal way to promote messages on reducing illicit or illegal discharges. An example is to offer an incentive like listing a business on the stormwater program website as a "Stormwater Partner" if they meet certain criteria, such as educating employees regularly on preventing illegal waste dumping into stormdrains, implementing BMPs, and clearly displaying posters showing how employees and customers can prevent and report illicit discharges and dumping.

Using powerful visual images enhances the linkages between residential nutrient runoff and its impact on local waterbodies.
Using powerful visual images enhances the linkages between residential nutrient runoff and its impact on local waterbodies

Target Audiences

While broad education on stormwater pollution can be helpful, you may want the strategy to identify segments of the population who play decision-making roles in polluting behaviors - such as home-based automobile care and yard work - to ensure that they understand how to change behaviors that are polluting. Other examples of target audiences might be in the commercial sector, such as builders, construction crews, and auto shop workers. Once identified, you should gather more information about them to better understand their behavior motivations and communication patterns. Effort may be well spent on understanding their language of communication, media (e.g., newspapers/radio stations) they commonly use, points in their workflow where they are most likely to engage in polluting behaviors, and where they purchase materials that are likely to end up as pollution (e.g., motor oil, fertilizers). Basic census research on income and educational demographics might be supplemented by feedback from small focus groups of the target audience with whose help you can better understand them. Research can tell you where the audience needs help to overcome barriers that perpetuate polluting behaviors (for example, all pollution prevention messages are in English, but a large section of the audience speaks Spanish.) It is worth getting to know the target audiences specifically to develop outreach messages that both resonate with, and more importantly, reach them.

To implement other required minimum measures of your program, you will specifically need to reach audiences such as:

  • Builders, contractors, and developers working on construction sites;
  • Municipal workers who are responsible for landscaping, street-sweeping and other activities; and
  • Condominium associations, landscaping companies, and landowners whose lawn and landscape practices can negatively impact stormwater quality.

These audiences need more technical and substantive messages, and you may have to deliver messages to them on-site or at-work, as well as training at monthly staff meetings, morning meetings, in their lunch rooms, in their newsletters, and so on.

Public transportation-ads can help generate general awareness of home-generated water pollution.
Public transportation-ads can help generate general awareness of home-generated water pollution


Communication is a two-way street. The value of pitching a message that the targeted audience responds to is very important. To do so, use the techniques honed by commercial marketers who effectively get people to believe in, and purchase their product. Incorporate the following points in your message:

  • Tell the audience how they will benefit by taking steps to prevent stormwater pollution of their rivers and lakes.
  • Address specific action steps that the audience should take to prevent pollution - don't be vague.
  • Give the audience incentives to reduce polluting behaviors.
  • Use humor.
  • Use a variety of media.
  • Engage different senses using color and creative design, catchy music and dialog, and great visuals. Visuals and graphics are especially important for audiences who speak different languages.
  • Use trusted, recognized, and popular community figures as messengers.

The message may need to be completely different from the goal. For example if the goal is to prevent excess nutrient runoff from lawns in the community, a message like "Reduce runoff pollution from your lawn," is not likely to get the same interest or response as one that emphasizes the benefits of reducing fertilizer application and mowing. For example, "Save time and money! Let your lawn grow taller. It improves the health of the lawn and reduces the fertilizer you need to apply."

Consider short training courses if your message is more substantive and targeted to specific groups. For example, you may need a short training course geared specifically to builders and developers on construction site-practices to control runoff. The training course might be delivered live by stormwater program staff, and complemented by a web-available slideshow, or a poster, or a reference handbook given to construction permittees with illustrative photos and instructive captions showing good and bad practices on construction sites.

All messages should include clear information on where to get additional resources, for example, a stormwater program Web site or a stormwater hotline phone number.

Image of website that gives more in-depth information on stormwater, pollution..
Public transportation-ads can help generate general awareness of home-generated water pollutionUse a website to give more in-depth information on stormwater pollution.

Format and Distribution

You should consider the receiving audience to help determine message formats and plan the distribution. The outreach strategy should ideally employ a variety of complementary formats to help reach diverse audiences. For broad audiences, media such as radio or television, or movie theater slides, might be appropriate. Messages can refer to a website for more information. Example formats for targeted audiences can include:

  • Illustrated posters for auto shops, dry-cleaners, and restaurant workers on preventing illegal waste-dumping into stormdrains and better waste disposal practices
  • Paper-based educational/curriculum exercise packets for school programs
  • Fridge magnets and calendars for home-owners
  • Billboards or posters for public transportation users
  • Paper inserts for water utility bills
  • A kiosk to showcase the program at county fairs, farmers markets, and public gatherings
  • A Web-based training module for landscapers and condominium associations on stormwater infrastructure, with an incentive like a "certificate of completion" from your office
  • A website with an illustrated section to train the public to recognize illicit discharges and dumping, and faulty or inadequate construction site runoff controls.

You should also take into account partnership opportunities with local agencies and businesses as you plan format and distribution, particularly at the "point-of-sale" for activities that could generate stormdrain pollution. For example, messages on stormdrain pollution prevention could be distributed on yard-waste bags distributed by the municipality or sold at the local hardware store. Partnering with local cinemas, newspapers, local festivals, and local sporting events are all ways you can use the power of public gatherings and media to take messages on stormwater to ever-wider audiences.

A program website is highly recommended. It should provide information for more detailed education on stormwater management, a phone number, and online-form for reporting stormwater issues or instances of pollution. It should address different audiences, such as "homeowners," "kids," or "businesses" and also address different activities, such as "pet care," and "yard care." It should offer specific actions that the audience can take to reduce pollution.

A website is an ideal format to widely disseminate more detailed public education on stormwater controls at construction sites. On the website you can show pictures of good and bad practices on construction sites, and link to forms for the public to report problems. The website can also show photos of what illegal discharges might look like, and where to report them.


All successful programs incorporate methods of evaluation, to help them see what works and jettison what does not. Evaluation can involve administrative indicators (e.g., were timeframes of planned activities met?), social indicators (e.g., the number of media impressions or the number of people who have been reached by the program), and environmental indicators (e.g., improvements in water quality, or volume of yard waste collected street side). Evaluation can help you allocate resources. For example, stormwater managers can better estimate the time their staff will need for an activity or product or evaluate whether a new staff member needs to be hired. Evaluation will also help justify future funding or if the scope of the activity or product must be expanded or scaled down.

An easy way to evaluate your outreach strategy is to lay out activities and projects in a table that includes time frame, responsible party, resources needed, and evaluation. An example is provided below from "Getting In Step: A Guide for Conducting Watershed Outreach Campaigns" [EPA 841-B-03-002].

Image of website that gives more in-depth information on stormwater,A sample outreach plan matrix.
A sample outreach plan matrix

Image of EPA's Nonpoint Source Outreach Digital Toolbox.
EPA's Nonpoint Source Outreach Digital Toolbox is a source of materials to use in outreach campaigns


Getting in Step: A Guide for Conducting Watershed Outreach Campaigns [EPA 841-B-03-002] [PDF - 3.27 MB - 136 pp]. This guidebook provides some of the tools you will need to develop and implement an effective watershed outreach plan. It can help the stormwater program manger address public perceptions, promote management activities, and inform or motivate stakeholders.

Nonpoint Source Outreach Digital Toolbox [EPA-841-C-05-003]. A resource for municipalities for developing outreach campaigns targeted to suburban residential populations, for watershed and stormwater pollution control efforts. The toolbox includes a catalog of over 700 outreach products and media materials.

Stormwater Outreach Materials and Reference Documents. EPA has developed materials available on this site that state or local governments can customize and use in their own stormwater outreach campaigns. Electronic files on this page contain space for officials to add their own contact information and inexpensively reproduce these materials.


USEPA. 2003. Getting in Step: A Guide for Conducting Watershed Outreach Campaigns. EPA 841-B-03-002. [ /getnstep.pdf [PDF - 3.27 MB - 136 pp]]. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Washington, DC.

USEPA. National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Stormwater Program website [].


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Last updated on June 01, 2006