ASSESSING THE ROLE OF NORMS AND INFORMATION IN SHAPING RESIDENTS' INTENTIONS TO ADOPT WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENT PRACTICES ACROSS URBAN-TO-RURAL LANDSCAPES

2019-01-17T14:22:28Z (GMT) by Jennifer A. Domenech

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution refers to pollution entering receiving waterbodies from diffuse sources, and is one of the main causes of water pollution in the United States. Best management practices (BMPs) and low impact development (LID) strategies are water and land management practices geared at reducing the effect of NPS pollution. This research focused on residents in northwestern Indiana and assessed their interest in adopting BMPs and LID strategies across the urban-to-rural gradient. Resident groups of interest include medium/large-scale farmers, small-scale farmers, rural non-farming residents, suburban residents, and urban residents. Specifically, this research explored residents’ awareness of and attitudes towards water quality improvement practices, their likelihood of adopting these practices, and factors that influence their likelihood of adoption. Data was collected through a household survey that was mailed to residents of Porter and LaPorte counties. In addition to survey questions measuring respondents’ awareness, attitudes, perceptions, likelihood of adoption, and demographics, the survey also contained an experimental component in the form of an information page. By using descriptive, bivariate and multivariate statistical procedures to analyze survey data, this research found that respondents generally reported high levels of awareness of and positive attitudes towards BMPs and LID strategies. Despite this, 41% of respondents reported a likelihood of adopting any water quality improvement practices. This research found that resident groups differed in their awareness of water quality improvement practices, as well as their descriptive and subjective norms associated with adopting these practices. Respondents valued improved environmental quality and reduced flash flood risk as benefits of adopting water quality improvement practices, and identified not knowing enough about specific conservation practices and concerns about how to install and maintain the practices as main barriers to adoption. Generally, respondents who were younger, perceived more problems with various potential water pollution sources, were more aware of water quality improvement practices, had more positive attitudes, had a stronger sense of personal responsibility, sought information in the past about water quality problems, or perceived stronger social expectations from peers (i.e., subjective norms) were more likely to be interested in adopting water quality improvement practices in the next year. The role of information was more ambiguous. While information about how to choose, install and maintain specific water quality improvement practices may be useful for residents, the information treatment about the responsibility of each resident group for NPS pollution did not seem to affect respondents’ likelihood of adoption. However, this research did find that respondents reacted differently to the information provided based on their initial self-reported likelihood of adoption prior to receiving any information. Based on these results, this research suggests strategies that may be used by public and private entities to motivate residents’ adoption of water quality improvement practices, including but not limited to: (1) developing education programs that highlight both the broader environmental quality benefits and geography-specific practical benefits of water quality improvement; (2) developing technical assistance programs that help residents identify appropriate conservation practices for their homes and properties and that facilitate installation and maintenance of such practices; (3) developing communication strategies to help residents establish a sense of self-responsibility and align their perceived water quality problems with their own actions; and, (4) developing outreach programs to help establish and facilitate descriptive and subjective norms in favor of adopting water quality improvement practices at the watershed scale.
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution refers to pollution entering receiving waterbodies from diffuse sources, and is one of the main causes of water pollution in the United States. Best management practices (BMPs) and low impact development (LID) strategies are water and land management practices geared at reducing the effect of NPS pollution. This research focused on residents in northwestern Indiana and assessed their interest in adopting BMPs and LID strategies across the urban-to-rural gradient. Resident groups of interest include medium/large-scale farmers, small-scale farmers, rural non-farming residents, suburban residents, and urban residents. Specifically, this research explored residents’ awareness of and attitudes towards water quality improvement practices, their likelihood of adopting these practices, and factors that influence their likelihood of adoption. Data was collected through a household survey that was mailed to residents of Porter and LaPorte counties. In addition to survey questions measuring respondents’ awareness, attitudes, perceptions, likelihood of adoption, and demographics, the survey also contained an experimental component in the form of an information page. By using descriptive, bivariate and multivariate statistical procedures to analyze survey data, this research found that respondents generally reported high levels of awareness of and positive attitudes towards BMPs and LID strategies. Despite this, 41% of respondents reported a likelihood of adopting any water quality improvement practices. This research found that resident groups differed in their awareness of water quality improvement practices, as well as their descriptive and subjective norms associated with adopting these practices. Respondents valued improved environmental quality and reduced flash flood risk as benefits of adopting water quality improvement practices, and identified not knowing enough about specific conservation practices and concerns about how to install and maintain the practices as main barriers to adoption. Generally, respondents who were younger, perceived more problems with various potential water pollution sources, were more aware of water quality improvement practices, had more positive attitudes, had a stronger sense of personal responsibility, sought information in the past about water quality problems, or perceived stronger social expectations from peers (i.e., subjective norms) were more likely to be interested in adopting water quality improvement practices in the next year. The role of information was more ambiguous. While information about how to choose, install and maintain specific water quality improvement practices may be useful for residents, the information treatment about the responsibility of each resident group for NPS pollution did not seem to affect respondents’ likelihood of adoption. However, this research did find that respondents reacted differently to the information provided based on their initial self-reported likelihood of adoption prior to receiving any information. Based on these results, this research suggests strategies that may be used by public and private entities to motivate residents’ adoption of water quality improvement practices, including but not limited to: (1) developing education programs that highlight both the broader environmental quality benefits and geography-specific practical benefits of water quality improvement; (2) developing technical assistance programs that help residents identify appropriate conservation practices for their homes and properties and that facilitate installation and maintenance of such practices; (3) developing communication strategies to help residents establish a sense of self-responsibility and align their perceived water quality problems with their own actions; and, (4) developing outreach programs to help establish and facilitate descriptive and subjective norms in favor of adopting water quality improvement practices at the watershed scale.