Using Adult Education to Improve the Sustainability of Water Resources in the Pacific Northwest, USA

Using Adult Education to Improve the Sustainability of Water Resources in the Pacific Northwest, USA

Robert L. Mahler Michael E. Barber 

Soil Science Division, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, USA

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA

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The purpose of this paper is to document actions taken by the public in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to improve the sustainability of their water resources since 2002. A survey instrument was used to collect these data in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Mail-based surveys containing between 45 and 60 questions were sent to over 2,200 randomly chosen adults in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Return rates in excess of 50% were received for each survey ensuring that the results were statistically valid. The 2002 survey results were used as base line data. Over 87% of the respondents undertook at least one voluntary action to protect the quantity of water resources based on the 2012 survey. Voluntary actions including installation of water saving appliances, changing water use in the yard, changing household water use and changing the way a vehicle was washed were taken by 70.2%, 49.2%, 64.3% and 32.1% of the survey respondents, respectively. Voluntary actions taken to protect water quality also improved in 2012 compared with the results of the 2002 and 2007 surveys. The percentage of respondents that improved home waste disposal practices improved their use of pesticides and/or fertilizers in their yards, and safely disposed of used motor oil in 2012 was 60.2%, 46.4% and 65.3%, respectively. Less than 14% and 19% of adults have not voluntarily addressed water quantity and water quality issues in their homes, respectively. Any activity that protects the integrity of water resources improves sustainability. The surveys conducted over a 10-year period show increasing citizen participation in efforts to protect water resources. Consequently, it appears that public education targeted at adults does work. Continued public education efforts targeted at adults over the next decade should continue to further increase public participation and the number of best management practices each citizen employs to protect their water resources. Compared with a traditional regulatory approach, the cost of public education to encourage the conservation and protection of water resources is a bargain. Consequently, the USA’s land grant universities and other governmental and non-government organizations that invest in adult education should continue to do so. From a taxpayer standpoint, this investment in water education is an efficient and wise use of money.


positive life-style change, public actions, public opinion, voluntary actions, water quality, water quantity, water sustainability


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