WIT Press

20 years of progress: How the regional water resources program in the Pacific Northwest (USA) reduced water pollution


Free (open access)


Volume 3 (2020), Issue 4



Page Range

293 - 303

Paper DOI



WIT Press


Robert L. Mahler, Michael E. Barber and Robert C. Simmons


In 1998, the Pacific Northwest Water Resources Program was established in the four Pacific North-West states (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington) with the ultimate goal of increasing public awareness about water quality and encouraging the public to take voluntary individual actions that would enhance water resources. Prevention of water pollution was the overall primary goal of this 20-year effort. The outreach arm of the land grant universities in the region led this effort. This effort was made possible by funding provided by the federal, state and local governments as well as non-governmental organizations. This project had short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. The short-term goals were to: (1) improve citizen knowledge about water issues, (2) improve awareness of the capabilities of land-grant universities to address water issues and (3) improve public awareness of and motivation to individu- ally or collectively address water issues. The medium-term goals were to: (1) improve cooperation for educational programming between states, (2) improve partnerships between both public and private, and local, state and regional organizations, (3) encourage citizens to voluntarily make choices to protect water resources and (4) help policy makers enact legislation to enhance the quality and quantity of water resources. The long-term goal of the regional project was to improve the quality of water resources within the four-state region. Water quality education was delivered to local citizens using public meetings, workshops, printed pamphlets, Internet-based publications, video-conferences and mass media. There was a strong education-research partnership component to this program. Large regional surveys were conducted initially and then every 5 years to understand citizen attitudes, priorities and individual actions taken to protect water quality in the region. The survey results showed that over the term of the project the public had become more engaged in reducing water pollution. This regional program made the public both more aware of potential pollution problems and encouraged citizens to be a part of the solution to water pollution. Although it is difficult to directly measure water quality improvement on a regional basis, project surveys showed that compared to 2002 over 75% of the public have taken individual actions to improve water quality. Positive actions have included: (1) a change in the disposal of household chemicals, (2) a reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers in urban areas and (3) better maintenance of septic systems in rural areas.


public concerns, public opinion, water quality, water issues, water quality improvement.