Reaching Out to Residents in the 21st Century

March 21, 2014

Featured, Multimedia

Government entity in Cape Cod creates an interactive website to educate about nutrient runoff

Click to see the the Cape Cod Commission (Barnstable, Mass.) interactive website.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection charged the Cape Cod Commission (Barnstable, Mass.) with updating its water quality management plan, or Sec. 208 of the Clean Water Act. Later, when a court order required rather quick development of this plan, the commission knew it had to be aggressive and creative to ensure implementation.

“We needed to get the word out to the public to help us choose the plan instead of having a plan chosen for us,” said Philip S. Detjens Jr., a geographical information systems analyst and database administrator at the commission.

To do this, the commission instituted a number of strategies which included launching, an interactive website designed to explain the region’s nutrient problem and how it is affecting watersheds in the area.

Detjens said it took about a month to come up with the concept for the site and almost 6 to 8 weeks to build it.

“We wanted to keep it very graphic and simple. We wanted anyone to be able to absorb the information very quickly,” Detjens said.

Cape Cod area residents can use the commission’s website to get a report on their local watershed. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Commission.

Cape Cod area residents can use the commission’s website to get a report on their local watershed. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Commission.

Detjens said that the Cape Cod area has 15 towns, but the commission wanted residents to focus more on their respective watershed than their town. To support this goal, website visitors can enter their addresses and print out a poster featuring various statistics for each watershed, such as the number of households, water usage, annual gallons of wastewater flushed, annual pounds of nitrogen runoff, and water-threat level.

“To get your watershed healthy again, you may have to interact with neighbors you’re not used to interacting with,” Detjens explained.

Extending the collection system to treat all wastewater at the local water resource recovery facility is not feasible, Detjens said. So the commission included a game function on the website to show different types of technologies, such as cluster systems and aqua cultures, that could be used to improve watersheds instead. The game shows the technologies, how much they would cost, and how long they would take to implement so that residents can see the tradeoffs, he said.

Detjens said he hasn’t received much response from the general public so far, but “we’ve heard a lot from the people who know about this issue and they applaud the site’s simplicity.”

Detjens said the commission has future plans to improve the website that include updating the address search function so it includes solutions already being implemented in each watershed. The site designers plan to accomplish this by having interact with an existing, more technical website that already shows what plans are on the table, he said.

LaShell Stratton-Childers, WEF Highlights

The Cape Cod Commission (Barnstable, Mass.) offers a variety of resources and information online including

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