Survey of Chesapeake Bay watershed residents may save the bay

January 03, 2003

Blacksburg, Va. -- With the population of the Chesapeake Bay watershed projected to increase by more than one million people during the next 15 years, efforts to educate each citizen about their impact on the bay is becoming more critical. To address this issue, the Conservation Management Institute of Virginia Tech conducted a survey of the current residents of the bay watershed as part of an effort to help achieve the restoration goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Julie McClafferty, human dimensions division coordinator for the Conservation Management Institute, led the survey with support from Virginia Tech's Center for Survey Research. "The protection and restoration of the natural resources of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is perhaps one of the greatest and most complex large-scale conservation efforts of all time," says McClafferty.

The large geographic area of the bay is home to a wide range of natural resources and a large, growing population of diverse people with varied interests and backgrounds. "Because the residents of the watershed are intricately involved in the processes and events that occur within the watershed, working with these people to achieve the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program is inevitable and essential," explained McClafferty.

Two years ago, the governors of the bay states and the Environmental Protection Agency signed Chesapeake 2000, a $19 billion cooperative plan to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution and to improve water quality by 2010. The plan calls for steep reductions in nutrient pollution from wastewater treatment facilities and urban and agricultural lands to help insure the future of the bay.

Since 1984, the population in the parts of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania in the bay watershed have reached about 16 million--an increase of 33 percent. While the bay has seen a major growth in development, revenues have remained stagnant. With budget deficits plaguing the bay region, monies for the clean-up are harder to come by.

To enhance progress on cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech conducted a telephone survey in March and April of 2002 of 1,988 residents of the bay watershed, including those residing in parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The objectives of the survey were to assess residents' level of knowledge about, perceptions of, attitudes towards, and behaviors in relation to pollution and environmental quality of the Chesapeake Bay region.

A secondary goal of the survey was to track changes in public perception regarding water quality issues since the Chesapeake Bay Program's last public perception survey conducted in 1993-1994. This information was analyzed and integrated into conservation planning efforts.

McClafferty's findings were clear: residents are concerned with pollution in the waterways and believe restoration and protection of the water resources are important ventures. "However, the concern is not matched with an individual level of stewardship activity," McClafferty said. "In order to reach the restoration goals of the Chesapeake Bay Program, public agencies must take specific actions in raising the level of resident involvement."

To encourage active participation among residents, McClafferty suggests that agencies help citizens personalize and internalize the pollution problem and its solution. Agencies need to inform members of the public about how their personal activities contribute to the pollution, what they can do, and how their actions can make a difference in improving water quality, she said

"People generally believe that one person can make a difference, yet they do not understand that they can be that one person," McClafferty said.
More details and survey results are at and

Written by Sarah Kayser, intern in the Office of University Relations

Julie McClafferty can be contacted at 540-231-7348 or

PR CONTACT: Lynn Davis, 540-231-6157,

Virginia Tech

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