Poll Finds Watershed Knowledge Low

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

The “River IQ” study, a recent poll commissioned by the National Geographic Society, found that protecting and conserving rivers was important for 98 percent of the respondents. That was the good news. On the other hand, only 15 percent of the respondents knew that the greatest source of river pollution comes from the actions of individuals in the watershed. Forty-four percent of those polled incorrectly identified industrial sources as the biggest source of water pollution, and only one third correctly identified land use and urban sprawl as the biggest culprit. The national telephone poll included 500 adults and 250 children.

The study was part of “Geography Action! Rivers 2001,” a National Geographic program to involve students, teachers, families, and communities in projects aimed at preserving rivers and watersheds and conserving water. The goal is to encourage Americans to become responsible river stewards, according to John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society.

A key finding of the study was the respondents’ lack of awareness about waterways and their interconnectedness and that individual and collective actions have a profound effect on the health of rivers.

Nearly 9 out of 10 respondents were unfamiliar with the term nonpoint source pollution, and almost half incorrectly thought water that goes down storm drains is treated at water treatment plants.

Asked how large an oil slick is created by dumping a quart of oil down a storm drain, almost half said 100 feet or less. The actual figure is two acres or 6,000 square feet.

The poll found respondents are more likely to get involved when it becomes a family project. Although one in five respondents was very interested in becoming an active river advocate and two-thirds were interested in becoming more involved in conserving and protecting rivers, more than half said they did not have time to get involved and a third lacked information about how to help.

If you are interesting in learning how to become a volunteer stream monitor, how to conduct a storm drain stenciling community education program in your neighborhood, or how to do a small scale stream bank stabilization project on your own property, please contact NVSWCD or call 703-324-1460, TTY 711. You will be directed to the appropriate staff member who can help you.

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