Sunday, February 19, 2017
Exhibit Hall (Hynes Convention Center)
S. Drew Story, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA
Background:California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, is facing rapid salinization and reductions in volume due to drought, water transfers, and fallowing of agricultural land. Despite the resulting public health risks and ecological losses, the Sea has struggled to gain attention or support from many California policymakers and residents. In 2016, California’s Natural Resources Agency (NRA) enacted the Salton Sea Management Program (SSMP) to develop and implement remediation projects as the shoreline recedes. Over six months, the NRA held fourteen public workshops throughout southern California to share information about the SSMP and to obtain public feedback on the State’s role in the future of the Salton Sea. A community engagement analysis was designed to assess 1) efficacy of workshops in impacting public knowledge and opinions of the SSMP and 2) the priority concerns of workshop attendees. Methods: A 10-question pre- and post-workshop survey was developed to document public knowledge, opinions, and priorities toward the SSMP. Demographic data were also collected from survey respondents. In total, 162 surveys were collected and analyzed from 12 different workshop locations, representing 40% of total public workshop attendees. Results: After attending an SSMP workshop, 36% of respondents experienced a positive change in their knowledge of the State’s efforts at the Salton Sea, and 37% reported an increase in their belief that the State is actively addressing issues at the Salton Sea. Furthermore, 81% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they gained valuable information by attending. Out of eleven options, respondents showed a clear prioritization of environmental health and public health issues (59% and 45%, respectively) at the Sea. Conclusions: Based on this survey, these workshops were effective in educating a portion of the public on the Salton Sea and the SSMP, but have room for some intentional improvement in enhancing public knowledge and building public confidence in the State’s plans and intentions. These results show that NRA outreach and communications may benefit from focusing on salient issues of environmental and public health risks. This effort also portrays a relevant example of the challenges associated with science communication. Effectively engaging California communities in proximity to the Salton Sea (and elsewhere) requires communicating not just scientific facts and engineering capabilities. Rather, diplomacy, in the form of mutually beneficial, two-way communication is advantageous to imparting positive change.