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Increasing Public Awareness of the Need for Water Conservation Within the Barnegat Bay Watershed

Despite the fact that clean, fresh water is a finite and precious natural resource, the vast majority of us take the ability to turn on a tap and obtain a virtually endless stream of clean water for granted. However, recent droughts and the attendant water shortages have started to make clear the idea that such an attitude is no longer sustainable.  Moreover, the Barnegat Bay watershed is surrounded in large part by Ocean County, which has one of the highest rates of population growth in the US  (http://www.bbep.org/Chapters/chapter_2.pdf). Consequently, the demand for clean water for personal consumption in the area will certainly increase as this population continues to grow.  The demand for water has already reduced flow in the Metedeconk and Toms Rivers by about 20 million gallons per day, and this reduction is expected to nearly double by 2016. (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, 1996. New Jersey Statewide Water Supply Plan. Trenton, New Jersey). In addition, withdrawal of water from aquifers and groundwater in the area is also reducing base-flow in local streams. Such changes in both surface and groundwater flows into the estuary are likely to have strong repercussions for the health of the Barnegat Bay and its associated wetlands. For example, saltwater will extend further up the Bay, disrupting the freshwater habitats that have historically been found there. In addition, the transition between freshwater and saltwater is likely to be more abrupt, resulting in a smaller zone in which organisms that require intermediate salinities can thrive.  Salt-water may also be drawn into the aquifers and groundwater-fed wells used to supply water to coastal communities, further reducing the available of fresh, clean water.  

Simple conservation actions like rapidly fixing leaky faucets and installing water-efficient fixtures can reduce household water use by 50% or more (www.epa.gov/OW/you/chap3.html). If widely adopted, such reductions in water use could mitigate the effects of an increased population on water demand, and thus protect the natural water flows to the Barnegat Bay. However, for this to happen, public awareness about the need for such actions needs to increase significantly. 

Bringing about voluntary change in public behavior requires three things: building awareness of the issue, enhancing motivation and providing an opportunity for changes in behavior (http://www.bbep.org/Chapters/chapter_8.pdf). The awareness-building phase of this project will start with two college student interns who will be asked to build their own familiarity with the reasons for the need for water conservation, and the kinds of action that can be taken by individuals in their homes and workplaces, to achieve such water conservation goals.  These interns will build a portfolio of the numerous excellent resources available to help bring water conservation awareness into the classroom at different grade levels. The interns (and PIs as needed) will then meet with cooperating classroom teachers to provide those teachers with the grade-appropriate materials needed to incorporate a water conservation unit into their lesson plans (worksheets, photocopies of content material, etc.). These materials will be designed not only to provide students with information on the topic, but also to build their motivation to translate this awareness into action. As outlined in the CCMP, we believe that this motivation will grow out of increased understanding of how the behavior of their families, friends and communities impact the Barnegat Bay watershed and the organisms living there. During this phase, the two interns and some of the PIs will visit area classrooms to give specific presentations to the students involved in the program. In the third and final phase of the project the K-12 students will be provided with the opportunity to turn their learning and motivation into action through the development of an outreach activity designed to communicate their newly acquired increased awareness as to the need for water conservation and the actions that people can take to achieve those water conservation goals. Some ideas that we have on the types of activity that the K-12 students might choose to undertake are included below. However, we believe that the greatest benefit from this program will be derived through allowing the students to have sufficient leeway for creativity that they can innovate, and thus gain ownership over, the exact nature of their own outreach activity. Thus, rather than mandate a “canned” activity that students simply carry out from a prescribed “recipe”, teachers and their students will be encouraged to bring their own creativity and ideas to this portion of the project to create an outreach activity that is truly their own (the only constraint be that the activity be able to be completed within the budgetary constraints of the grant and any other funding that we are able to procure in the future to support this initiative).  Some ideas we have on the types of activity that the students might undertake during this portion of the project include:

bullet Creation of a float, walking unit or other display about water conservation for local community parades. K-12 students might choose to create costumes or signs that focus on water conservation. Students would complete much of their work for this program in their art and science classes (see http://www.awwa.org/waterwiser/education/pdfs/cs_4.pdf for a model program).
bullet Creation of materials such as coloring or puzzle-type place mats, highlighting water awareness and water conservation information. Such placemats would be printed and provided at low or no cost to local restaurants and would be used to carry the water conservation message to the residents and visitors who frequent those restaurants (see http://www.awwa.org/waterwiser/education/pdfs/cs_15.pdf for a model program).
bullet Creation of an entertaining, educational program (e.g. skits, songs, presentations) about the need for water conservation and which the students would then take into the numerous retirement communities in the area which are always looking for innovative programs to entertain and educate their residents. This has the advantage of targeting two major demographics in Ocean County: school-age students and seniors.

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