Communication of scientific activities is an accomplishment of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program, as discussed in Chapter 3. This appendix contains a more detailed accounting of the communication efforts to augment and support this accomplishment and further highlight the scope of these efforts.
The current budget for NAWQA communications effort is modest, approximately 1 to 2 percent of the total program budget. NAWQA communication activities are directed by the NAWQA Communications Coordinator. NAWQA has a contract with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) to spearhead congressional briefings and liaison meetings. Separate communication resources are built into each of the program components for NAWQA, such as the surface water status and trends, ground-water status and trends, national synthesis programs, topical teams, and source-water assessments and are used to develop derivative products (such as the web, companion articles, fact sheets, video casts, etc.) that are associated with some of the relatively larger launches. NAWQA benefits from continued support from the USGS Office of Communication in developing companion products and social media tools. In public meetings of this committee, NAWQA leadership conveyed that the number of forums in which NAWQA results are presented continues to grow with the addition of more frequent and timely updating of web pages; improved mapping, querying, and access to related links on the web; and improved functionality of the data warehouse.
When disseminating NAWQA findings, the overall goal is to reach a broad audience of technical and non-technical consumers of NAWQA’s in-
formation products and tools through multiple media, varying technical detail, and appealing graphics. Products are tailored to each targeted audience and structured around answering NAWQA’s three core questions related to the status of the water resource, changes in quality and related conditions over time and space, and understanding of the factors influencing status and trends. The program’s communication strategy follows a tiered approach, ranging from detailed scientific reports for technically trained audiences to one-page fact sheets for lay audiences. Thus, the program attempts to match the level of technical detail in its various information products to the needs of decision-makers and stakeholders who are trying to understand and make informed choices about policy, management, and investments related to water quality.
NAWQA typically employs an aggressive communications strategy in its release of a major report, which employs written products, briefings, and Internet-based formats. These reports are typically released with fact and briefing sheets, a press release, a dedicated web page linked to the main NAWQA program website, an email “blast” to stakeholders and decision-makers,1 and stakeholder and congressional briefings. The dedicated web-page includes not only the main product but also a variety of other products including a Frequently Asked Questions document, downloadable graphics and tables with the raw and supporting data, and a podcast of key findings. The selection of products used depends on the scale and content of the report. The communication strategy is flexible and will expand or contract depending upon the attention received during release. It also ensures that NAWQA studies are communicated at both the local and national level. The release of the NAWQA pesticide circular in 2006 (Gilliom et al., 2006), which was a “major release,” had a 10-part communication strategy and included a variety of derivative products and activities (Box C-1).
NAWQA’s written publications are the foundation of the program’s communications strategy. NAWQA publishes a variety of written publications that have no political agenda, target various audiences, and contain no specific policy recommendations. These publications come in a variety of formats targeting various audiences and subjects:
1 NAWQA’s Contacts Database includes approximately 1,700 relevant stakeholders who are prioritized according to their interest in the program judged by attendance at briefings, requests for NAWQA publications, etc. NAWQA uses this list and prioritization to distribute its publications and tailors outreach accordingly.
• Circulars are synthesis reports on a broad topic that are widely distributed, reaching a large audience. This includes scientists in government, industry, and academia; water managers; public-health officials; utilities; regulators; elected officials; and watershed groups and others in the general public.
• Scientific Investigations Reports contain information of lasting scientific interest because of significant data and interpretation.
• Open File Reports are publications that are released immediately and contain interpretive information such as supporting data referenced in another product or preliminary findings.
• Water-Resources Information Reports are a discontinued series of reports. When used, they contained hydrologic information of local interest.
NAWQA Communication Strategy for Circular
1291: Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground
Water, 1992-2001 (released March, 2006)
1. Conducted formal external review of the Circular (two formal USGS peer reviews, 15 external reviews);
2. Briefed federal agencies and others on major findings and implications (Department of the Interior [DOI], U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA’s] Office of Water and Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA];
3. Posted the Circular and companion materials on an internal website so USGS scientists (such as Water Science Center Directors) could become familiar with findings and implications;
4. Worked collaboratively with communications staff at EPA and USDA during release (exchanged press releases);
5. Briefed DOI external and public affairs stakeholders on key findings and communications plan;
6. Held congressional briefing;
7. Posted USGS Circular and companion materials on the NAWQA homepage;
8. Distributed Circular and companion materials to agencies and stakeholders (printed and electronic versions);
9. Derivative articles written to communicate information about specific issues of interest to selected organizations; and
10. Continued distribution through conferences, workshops, follow-up meetings, and briefings.
SOURCE: P. Hamilton, personal communication, June 25, 2010.
• Fact Sheets are abbreviated publications that summarize and provide details about various USGS activities, typically a Circular.
• Techniques and Methods Reports detail the techniques and methods used in NAWQA studies, both in the field and in the laboratory. These are useful and promote consistent water-quality monitoring among the scientific community at large.
• Briefing sheets are used as a tool at various meetings and on the website to brief interested parties. These do not appear in the NAWQA publications database and go through an unofficial peer review within NAWQA, in contrast to the more formal USGS peer-review process discussed below.
• Journal articles and special journal issues are often used as companions for the larger reports. For example, three papers on Mercury Cycling in Stream Ecosystems were published in the April 15, 2009, issue of Environmental Science and Technology, slightly prior to the report release in August of 2009.
• Program design, strategy, and goal documents are authored when the program experiences a shift in program design. These documents are often used to engage input from stakeholders such as the National Liaison Committee.
USGS publications go through the rigorous peer-review process. NAWQA supplements this by including an additional external reviewer(s), a practice started in 1991 with the Delmarva Circular in 1991 (Hamilton and Shedlock, 1992). For example, the pesticide circular released in 2006 had two formal USGS peer reviewers and 15 external reviewers including federal agencies, private and industry representatives, as well as representatives from trade, professional, and other non-profit organizations. When choosing this group of external reviewers, NAWQA’s goal is to cover all relevant and potentially contrasting perspectives, i.e., non-regulatory, municipal, state, and tribal perspective (P. Hamilton, personal communication, June 17, 2010).
NAWQA participates in approximately two congressional briefings a year, on a variety of topics that coincide with the release of new NAWQA research. Briefings typically employ a USGS scientists and a non-USGS scientist to address the topic. In large part, these briefings have been supported by the Water Environment Federation (a frequent co-sponsor) and EESI. Media and trade coverage is common and can include both local and national outlets. For example, the briefing on the NAWQA study assessing water-quality conditions of domestic wells across the United States held
in March of 2009 had 42 media and trade press requests (P. Hamilton, NAWQA, personal communication, June 17, 2010).
When invited, NAWQA or USGS leadership will give congressional testimony on the program’s scientific output. NAWQA hosted a Nitrogen and Phosphorus National Press Conference in 2007, was a press conference on SPAtially Referenced Regressions on Watershed Attributes (SPARROW) (P. Hamilton, personal communication, June 17, 2010).
NAWQA scientists frequently attend scientific meetings and present research on new monitoring and analytical methods, analysis of findings, and innovations in modeling and technology. Conferences include but are not limited to:
• America Benthological Society,
• Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry,
• American Geophysical Union, American Geological Institute,
• American Water Resources Association—national and regional conferences,
• National Groundwater Association,
• Association of State Drinking Water Administrations,
• Geological Society of America, and
• American Association of Advancement of Science.
These presentations are important to overall success of the program because they increase the transparency of technical methods, and the credibility of the underlying analysis, and they engage a broader community of peers in the challenges of characterizing water quality over multiple time and spatial scales for a wide range of applications.
DATA AND OTHER MEDIA PRODUCTS ON THE INTERNET
During Cycle 2, the NAWQA program has expanded the use of digital media and appealing graphics to better communicate products and tools. NAWQA’s primary web-based interface with the public is the program website,2 has been significantly improved since the National Research Council encouraged NAWQA to improve it (NRC, 2002). Today, most users are satisfied or very satisfied with the program’s website (Figure C-1).
The National Water Information System (NWIS)3 is the USGS database, which houses streamflow, groundwater, and water-quality, and biology data. Ten to 15 years ago, NAWQA made its information accessible online through NWISweb, which is maintained by USGS’s Office of Infor-
mation. However, NAWQA’s metadata were not completely compatible with NWISweb; thus, a subset of NWIS for NAWQA data, the NAWQA data warehouse, was born in 1999.4 Containing information on approximately 2,000 water-quality and biological constituents, which are available for public use (Bell and Williamson, 2006), water-quality data are communicated to the public in a variety of formats including location maps, graphics, and links to NAWQA reports as well as instructions on data retrieval or exporting data. Biological information in the NAWQA data warehouse is not yet sophisticated, but part of this is a product of biological sampling constraints. USGS is currently building a database for biological data that will fit into NWISweb and the NAWQA data warehouse that will be released in late 2012, “BioData.”5 Even though this is a NAWQA-led effort, the biology database will serve and provide all biology data from water-related programs to the public (P. Hamilton, personal communication, May 13, 2009).
In recent years NAWQA has developed a social media presence by, for example, using USGS CoreCasts, an audio or video podcast, as a method of dissemination.6 The first USGS CoreCast, on Hurricanes and Extreme
Storms, was released in August of 2007. Since then, NAWQA has developed and published several CoreCasts when a report or study is released. In February 2010, a CoreCast was released featuring the USGS NAWQA Transport of Anthropogenic and Natural Contaminants to Supply Wells or TANC effort.7 The CoreCast explains the relevance of the study for the educated lay person, notes that the results of the study illustrate why some public-supply wells are more vulnerable to contaminants in aquifers than others, and mentions that the study provides information for public supply well managers to protect their drinking water supply—conclusions that are very important to the public. The CoreCast continues by linking the video to USGS fact sheets providing the viewer with a mechanism for obtaining more information.
For the recent study on the Effects of Urbanization on Stream Ecosystems, NAWQA scientists developed a complimentary set of video casts, which received 7,000 page views the day the study was released (G. McMahon, personal communication, June 21, 2010). The urbanization story is reaching the international community despite the geographical focus on the United States; upon release, Spanish Univision reported on the study, and the NAWQA leadership is considering using Spanish subtitles in its CoreCasts (P. Hamilton, personal communication, June 17, 2010).
USGS, through the Office of Communications, is also participating in additional social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. NAWQA is contemplating involvement in these outlets. The USGS Office of Communications commented on NAWQA’s 2009 mercury study upon release and received 20,000 “tweets” in response and discussion. The public took a particular interest in understanding if fish were safe to eat. However, it is reasonable to note that the public might not show the same interest in carbonate aquifers or NAWQA’s more technically oriented products.
Bell, R. W., and A. K. Williamson. 2006. Data Delivery and Mapping Over the Web: National Water-Quality Assessment Data Warehouse. USGS Fact Sheet 2006-3101.
Gilliom, R. J., J. E. Barbash, C. G. Crawford, P. A. Hamilton, J. D. Martin, N. Nakagaki, L. H. Nowell, J. C. Scott, P. E. Stackelberg, G. P. Thelin, and D. M. Wolock. 2006. Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1291.
Hamilton, P. A., and R. J. Shedlock. 1992. Are fertilizers and pesticides in the ground water— A case study of the Delmarva Peninsula, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1080. 16 pp.
NRC (National Research Council). 2002. Opportunities to Improve the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment Program. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
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