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The average Minnesotan values having clean, healthy water resources. The same Minnesotans value safe driving conditions on roads and bridges. These two public goods are in direct conflict and create a serious dilemma for local government and businesses. Driving in difficult winter road conditions is a problem that directly impacts daily life for nearly all members of the public. It is immediately recognized and felt. Conversely, the problem of chloride pollution causing permanent damage to local waters is something that must be imagined and may not be felt until much later. Extreme public pressure is often brought to bear on local officials to address the immediate problem of icy roads, in spite of the long-term consequences of permanent damage to water resources that will have severe and wide impacts.
When confronted with this dilemma, most citizens will acknowledge this challenge needs to be resolved. However, the expectation is this is government’s problem to solve. This dynamic – the government must solve this problem, while the public simply observes – is at the root of this challenge. Changing this expectation is needed to change the over use of chloride to manage winter roads, parking lots, and sidewalks.
Traditional information and education campaigns are important tools in raising awareness about chloride impairments in lakes, rivers, and groundwater. However, if the goal is to create long-term, sustainable change in the practices surrounding the use of salt and other chloride products (e.g., sidewalk deicers, water softening agents) additional strategies will be needed. Research shows that education may be effective in altering some citizens’ behaviors for the short-term, but these changes are not likely to be widespread or sustained unless they are coupled with organizing strategies that provide supportive structures for citizen collaboration and public action (Dietz and Stern, 2002).
In order to ensure that a new mindset and social norm are achieved around winter road expectations and the use of chloride, a long-term approach to organizing stakeholders will be needed. Changing attitudes will require significant, long-term, and small-scale organizing of homeowners to work in partnership with WDs, WMOs, lake associations, and neighborhood organizations. These community-based organizations are best poised to deliver outreach and programs.
Outreach and education programs remove the barrier of lack of information and encourage people to make changes in their day-to-day practices. However, research has found that there are often other barriers that keep people from changing their existing practices. One effective strategy for overcoming these barriers is to couple information with relationship-building and collaboration support systems in small-scale settings. Community associations, civic groups, and lake associations that already organize neighbors around the issue of water quality can expand their learning and strategies to include addressing chloride pollution. The trusting relationships that develop in these contexts and citizens openness to learn and act, increases the possibility they will consider new information and assistance
Trusted local leaders delivering information will likely have greater impact than blanket media campaigns, fact sheets, or other educational materials. This approach can be especially effective when coupled with an effort to develop a sense of citizenship and common good while addressing water quality as part of an overall outreach and organizing strategy. Inspiring citizenship and caring for the common good and community, is showing promise in sparking interest in participation.
Development and implementation of public education and involvement is critical and necessary to the success of chloride management in the TCMA. Based on feedback from stakeholders, a multi-agency approach to public education and involvement is needed to reach a large and diverse group of salt applicators with a range of motivations related to salt application. Public education and involvement can be accomplished through multiple venues such as mainstream news media, social media, permanent and variable message signs, elementary and high school education, and other resources aimed at reaching the general public. The MPCA road salt and water quality website maintains a list of available educational resources. Educational resources for educators and citizens are also available in Appendix D.
Changes in personal practices and attitudes can be the most challenging and time consuming and require short- and long-term strategies. Current winter driving expectations is a result of decades of increasing road salt use and improvements to the level of service. The improved level of service has allowed the traveling public to drive faster with greater confidence during snow and ice events. A long-term strategy is needed to reverse this expectation. Education of young drivers could be an important starting point in changing driver behaviors to expect a lower level of service during snow and ice events.
As part of the TCMA Chloride Project, an education committee was created to identify the principal audiences for winter maintenance education and discuss potential opportunities and strategies to increase awareness about salt use and associated water quality issues. The EOC included state and local education specialists from the MPCA, counties, the UMN, The Freshwater Society, WDs, WMOs, conservation districts, and MnDOT which met four times over the duration of the TCMA Chloride Project.
The following is a summary of recommendations provided by the EOC and other stakeholders. These recommendations should be considered by professionals in relevant organizations and roles. In addition to the great information and recommendations gathered from local education specialists, there is a need for government and citizens to collaborate to make effective policy choices for reducing salt use.
Strategies for Recruiting for Training
Demonstration projects can be used to test the organizing approaches for building partnerships between citizens and government or property owners to work together to solve the challenge of chloride use and water resource impairments. The demonstrations will likely be most successful where community capacity around environmental issues exists. Local leaders should be supported to experiment with building partnerships across sectors to co-develop strategies for chloride reductions by municipalities, businesses, and households. The demonstrations can employ pre- and post-evaluation to determine whether the approach achieves meaningful outcomes over time. The outcomes will determine whether the efforts should expand past the pilot stage. If defined outcomes are significant, the plan should be developed to scale to metro-wide and beyond application.