Oct 26, 2020

 How to Maintain NPDES Outreach Compliance During a Pandemic     

During the last seven months, issues that don’t pose an immediate threat, like urban runoff and simple things like littering, have somewhat slipped from public consciousness. 

Maintaining NPDES outreach

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the health and well-being of millions of people around the world. But watersheds are also paying a price. During the last seven months, issues that don’t pose an immediate threat, like urban runoff and simple things like littering, have somewhat slipped from public consciousness. 

Despite the pandemic, the NPDES permit still requires that outreach and public education take place. Social distancing guidelines have prevented storm water agencies from hosting in-person workshops and participating in outdoor festivals and community events. These events are traditionally where agencies are able to educate and directly engage with their community about vital best management practices residents should do to help keep their local neighborhoods and watersheds healthy. 

Like many other businesses who have had to pivot their strategies to accommodate for these new restrictions, agencies have also had to think outside the box when it comes to engaging their residents on storm water issues.

For SGA Marketing, a full-service marketing and communications agency that specializes in storm water public education and outreach, “thinking out of the box” is exactly what they’ve had to do for many of their clients. 

According to Stephen Groner, president of SGA Marketing, the key is learning to pivot and reimagining community engagement using online portals and hosting web-based events. He points out a silver lining to this new way of engagement, asserting that “moving so much of our outreach online has allowed many of our storm water clients to be even more inclusive and to reach more people than they would have at a traditional in-person event.”

One of SGA Marketing’s clients, the San Bernardino County Stormwater Program, collaborated with SGA to utilize the QR code technology that has been popular with restaurants during this pandemic. Together, they developed QR code stickers that allow residents to request a free canister from their phones. These stickers can be found at doggie waste bag stations across county parks and at trailheads where social-distancing residents and their pups may see them. 

“At first we struggled and had to rethink how to engage residents.” said Arlene Chun, P.E., Stormwater Program Manager, San Bernardino County Stormwater Program. “We worked with SGA to reprogram engagement efforts to take advantage of creative uses of online platforms via our website and social media to reach our residents. The QR Code initiative is a great example of this.” 

The County of San Mateo Stormwater Program is another storm water program that has also worked to pivot their community engagement online. They recently worked with SGA to transition an in-person event to an online rain barrel installation workshop and subsequently experienced a dramatic increase in participation. 

“We’ve organized and hosted additional virtual events since the first online rain barrel workshop, with equal success,” said Reid Bogert, a Stormwater Program Specialist at San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention. “We’re happy to see it was not just a one-hit-wonder. It seems there’s a big appetite for virtual events under the current conditions, and we hope to continue leveraging the virtual space to engage more audiences on a variety of storm water outreach topics, including a new rain garden incentive program, sustainable gardening and more.” 

SGA Marketing has been partnering with several storm water agencies, including the City of Los Angeles, Riverside County and San Bernardino County, for over 20 years to develop  storm water public education initiatives. Other virtual content they’ve developed for clients during COVID-19 include creating social media posts for Los Angeles residents about how to safely store household hazardous waste at home while safe collection centers have been closed, as well as launching a California Native Seeds program. This program mails drought-resistant native seed packets to local residents to provide timely support and encouragement to those who have become gardening enthusiasts while sheltering in place. 

In a last example, SGA recently collaborated with the city of Lincoln’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) expert to create a series of  educational videos explaining less toxic options for handling garden and household pests. This information is normally given to residents in the form of flyers at community events. These new videos were posted on the City of Lincoln’s website and will also be embedded in the city’s monthly newsletter to residents.

SGA Marketing’s mission is to build better communities through client partnerships using marketing, communications and research.

“Our team believes in the power of collective action to create positive change and the pandemic has made us all pivot, but sometimes that is what spurs a shift towards more creative and successful problem solving,” remarked Groner.


About the author

Angie Lee is project manager at SGA Marketing. Lee can be reached at [email protected].