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Sidebar: Diverse groups team up to fight pollution


Leigh Taylor Johnson, Los Angeles counties

publication information

California Agriculture 51(4):24-26. July-August 1997.

author affiliations

L.T. Johnson is California Sea Grant's Extension Advisor for San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles counties.

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Legislation aimed at water pollution abatement may create strange, and sometimes seemingly incompatible, bedfellows. But in at least one instance, legislation on nonpoint-source pollution provided an opportunity for government, environmentalists and members of the agricultural and recreational boating industries to make a clean start at overcoming what had previously been mutually frustrating attempts at communication.

The legislation in question was the Nonpoint Source Pollution Program, passed by Congress as an amendment to the Coastal Zone Act in 1990. Two novel aspects of the program were that it required public involvement in developing and implementing pollution “management measures” and that the management measures be economically achievable.

In response to this legislation, the San Diego County Cooperative Extension initiated a joint public-issues program focused on the effects of agriculture on coastal nonpoint-source pollution. We worked with agricultural producers, government agencies and environmentalists to educate the groups to one another's perspectives. The project proved so successful that we decided to use it as a model for working with the recreational boating industry.

Although the largest source of pollutants in marinas is upland runoff from storm drains, the kinds of pollutants generated by recreational boaters are diverse and tough to handle. Pollutants include not only the obvious offenders — sewage, garbage, trash, oil and fuel — but also heavy metals from antifouling paints, zinc anodes, sanding dust, paint, varnish, cleaners and other materials used in boat maintenance.

Marina managers, government agencies and environmental groups expressed interest in working together in addressing the requirements of the Nonpoint Source Pollution Program. So, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Sea Grant Extension Program, we designed a 3-year research and education program. Although the focus was on San Diego County, results and materials were disseminated throughout California and other coastal states as well.

San Diego-based marine advisor Leigh Taylor Johnson and student intern Sam Herrick talk to a recreational boat owner about best management practices to prevent pollution from marinas.

During the research phase of the project, we interviewed 128 representatives of marinas, boat repair yards and maintenance services and boat owners, as well as representatives of government and environmental groups and scientists. We wanted to know what these individuals knew about nonpoint-source pollution, what their concerns were and how they thought various problems should be solved.

Then, the interview results reflecting each group's point of view were shared with the others. We next convened a meeting at which representatives of the groups developed recommendations for reducing pollution. One of their main recommendations was for voluntary efforts by industry, supported by educational assistance. Because they had exchanged concerns, discovered much commonality in opinions and worked as a team to suggest solutions, tensions were greatly reduced and willingness to work together greatly increased.

To address educational needs, we developed a number of resources, including a comprehensive planning manual for marina managers, brochures for boat owners and others on vessel maintenance and impacts of pollution and an annotated bibliography. They were based on more than 100 references (including the federal nonpoint-source pollution guidance document), interviews with industry leaders in pollution control and reviews by industry, environmental representatives and scientists in government agencies. In conjunction with several other California Sea Grant advisors and numerous cooperating organizations, we conducted seminars for 100 coastal and inland marina managers in five areas of California. We also conducted seminars for boat owners in San Diego and Mission Bays.

We used questionnaires to document that the marina managers found meetings and materials to be very useful (mean of 4.5 on a scale of 5). But we also wanted to determine whether behaviors had been changed, so we also asked the marina managers which of 28 Best Management Practices (BMPs) they had been using before our program, and whether they had implemented any new ones as a result of it.

The BMPs on the survey were selected from our educational materials, that were used as a basis for the seminars. Examples of BMPs include: Do you keep oil- and fuel-spill containment booms handy? Do you advertise hazardous waste collection stations and events? Do you require boat maintenance contractors working in your marina to have a license and insurance? Do you provide boaters with guidelines for topside work? Do you have a pollution prevention plan and use it to train your staff? Results showed a dramatic increase in the percentage of marinas using each BMP after the program — with as many as 74 to 92% of the marinas adopting some practices. Statistical analysis found that almost all of the increases in percentage of marinas using each BMP were significant at the .001 level. The few that were not significant at the .001 level were significant at the .05 level.

Impacts of this project are spreading: Since it ended, requests for materials and recommendations on working with the boating industry have come from as far away as Florida, New York and Guam. Monitoring marinas for pollution control and water quality improvements is beyond the scope of this project and the jurisdiction of the Sea Grant Extension Program. However, it is clear that the project played a vital part in providing educational resources and helping to stimulate awareness and adoption of best management practices for pollution prevention.

With special assistance from the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, we are now looking at some economic aspects of boating pollution. We hope to learn what information recreational boaters and the boating industry need to help them choose practices and products that are both economical and effective for reducing pollution.


Johnson LT. Bigford TE, Boyles RH Jr. How effective are consensus and education in promoting boating pollution prevention?. Proceedings of the Coastal Society 15th International Conference; 1996 Jul 14–17 1996. pp.292-8.

Johnson LT, Mellano VJ. How can agriculture reduce its impact on coastal water quality?. Building a Consensus for Action. San Diego: UC Cooperative Extension 1993. 10.

McCoy EJA, Clifton CB, Johnson LT. Marina pollution prevention manual. UC Sea Grant Extension Program, San Diego 1995. 26.

McCoy EJA, Johnson LT. Boating pollution economics and impacts. San Diego: UC Sea Grant Extension Program 1995. 4.

McCoy EJA, Johnson LT. Clean boating bibliography, annotated. San Diego: UC Sea Grant Extension Program 1995. 30.

United States Environmental Protection Agency.. Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. Program Development and Approval Guidance. USEPA Office of Water 1993.

United States Environmental Protection Agency.. Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. USEPA Office of Water 1993.

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