Developing a Social Component for Nonpoint Source Pollution in Minnesota

Project Staff

Principal Investigator: Karlyn Eckman, Senior Research Associate, Water Resources Center

Research Assistant: Valerie Were


USEPA Region 5; Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Project Duration

Phase 1: September 2006 - January 2010

Phase 2: February 2010 – January 2013


Regional Social Indicators Project

The fundamental goal of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution projects is to improve the quality of our water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors NPS projects with an evaluation framework based upon biophysical and a variety of administrative and financial indicators. However, observing the social dimensions that affect water quality can be difficult, such as attitudes, practices and behaviors.

The regional state agency NPS coordinators have initiated this joint project in cooperation with six land grant universities throughout the Great Lakes region (EPA Region 5). The Social Indicators project came about under the leadership of the USDA Cooperative State Extension, and Education Service (CSREES) Great Lakes Regional Water Quality Program.

The regional team has developed core social indicators that help assess progress toward four goals of non point source projects:

  • Increased awareness among the target audience
  • Attitude maintenance or change in target audience
  • Increased capacity to address NPS management issues in the project area
  • Increased behavior/adoption among the target audience

In the fall of 2005, the regional team conducted a series of state-level workshops to solicit user input for the development of social indicators. These workshops were followed by a Delphi web survey sent to stakeholders throughout the region to help streamline the list of core indicators. Since then, the regional team has been revising a handbook for use by NPS projects to collect information related to the core indicators. The team is also developing the Social Indicators Data Management and Analysis software system (SIDMA) that will be used to store and analyze data. Next steps are to pilot test the core indicators and methodologies throughout the region. Some of our first pilot tests include the Eagle Creek and Clifty Creek watershed groups in Indiana. By the end of 2007, the team plans to update the handbook based on the pilot tests. The team is also working on developing supplemental indicators. In 2008 the social indicators project was renamed Social Indicators Planning and Evaluation System (SIPES).

Minnesota Social Indicators Project

Minnesota is collaborating in the regional social indicators project, but the Minnesota team also works on tools and methods for water quality concerns that are unique to this state. The Minnesota team includes staff from both the MPCA and the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center, working in collaboration with our local partners.

A statewide video conference was held in May 2007 at the MPCA introducing the social indicators project. Staff members of at least six Minnesota NPS projects expressed an interest in participating in the SI testing phase. A decision was made to begin with smaller-scale projects with limited target audiences during the first year of testing. We will add larger projects as we gain experience with the SI framework. Therefore, the Minnesota NPS projects selected by year are:


  • Duluth Lakeside Stormwater Reduction project (baseline survey completed)
  • Winter Maintenance Training for Reduced Impacts to Water project (snowplow driver training), with Fortin Consulting, Inc. and Dakota County staff (baseline survey completed)

2008-2009 (tentative)

  • McCarron’s Lake, Roseville MN (Capitol Region Watershed District) (withdrawn)
  • Heron Lake Soil and Water Conservation District, Fulda Lakes NPS project (baseline survey completed)
  • Repeat survey for Duluth LSRP (September/October 2009)
  • Repeat survey for Dakota County winter maintenance (November 2009)

2009-2010 (tentative)

  • Heron Lake Soil and Water Conservation District, Fulda Lakes NPS project (repeat survey)
  • Crow River Organization of Waters (C.R.O.W.), Buffalo MN (tentative)
  • Buffalo Red River Water District 319 project (to be determined)

Dakota County Winter Maintenance Training KAP Study Report - Final Report

Testing consists of designing a questionnaire using the SIDMA software, then administering the questionnaire as a baseline survey with a local target audience. WRC and MPCA staff work closely with the local partner and project staff to design the questionnaire and conduct the surveys. Currently, SIDMA is capable of generating questionnaires for rural and urban property owners. The regional team has begun work on a SIDMA questionnaire for target audiences who participate in NPS training, education and outreach activities. SIPES and SIDMA are designed for larger-scale target audiences using probability sampling.

The purpose of the testing phase is to field-test the SI tools, methods and materials on actual 319 projects in Minnesota. We want to assess whether the system is user-friendly and can accurately collect and analyze data. We also want to identify areas that need further improvement. The testing phase will run from 2008 to 2010.

Evaluation Practices of NPS Projects in Minnesota – Research Results

WRC staff conducted an Internet survey of the evaluation practices of water quality projects in Minnesota. A survey invitation from Survey Monkey was sent to about 150 NPS project staff asking them to complete a short questionnaire. The survey focused on the evaluation practices used by project staff to determine project outcomes. The goal was to learn how project staff assess whether a target audience’s knowledge, attitudes and practices related to water quality change over time. For example, a local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) may want to know if people adopt and maintain a best management practice (BMP) that they have promoted. Through this survey we hope to identify gaps and needs in actual evaluation practices, and develop initiatives to support NPS staff when evaluating social outcomes. View the survey results.

Evaluation Methods for NPS Projects with Smaller Target Audiences

The Minnesota SI team is also working on developing additional evaluation tools including a KAP (knowledge, attitudes and practices) survey tool, evaluation mini-workshops, and participant observation to verify post-project impacts. These tools are intended for smaller NPS projects, especially with target audiences less than 500 people. The KAP tool was tested in Duluth in 2008 for the Lakeside Stormwater Reduction Project as a baseline questionnaire. KAP surveys have also been tested in 2009 with Dakota County maintenance workers, lakeshore property owners in Itasca and Otter Tail counties, and septic installers and designers. These KAP studies will be repeated later to determine changes in local knowledge, attitudes and practices. A mini-evaluation tool was also tested with MPCA and municipal staff in Lake City, Minnesota in May 2008.

For more information, contact:

Karlyn Eckman
Senior Fellow, Water Resources Center
University of Minnesota
Office Phone: 612-625-6781