Survey shows increased awareness of stormwater runoff problem, solutions

A recent survey by the Castleton University Polling Institute indicates that the efforts of a Chittenden County program to educate the public about stormwater are working to raise awareness.

The Rethink Runoff educational campaign has been under way for 15 years by nine municipalities and several organizations that are subject to the Environmental Protection Agency storm sewer system permit requirements. The local governments launched the effort to inform the public and encourage best practices to combat harmful effects of stormwater runoff. It is coordinated through the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

The group commissioned the Castleton survey, which was done from January to March, sampling residents in Burlington, Colchester, Essex Junction, Essex, Milton, Shelburne, South Burlington, Williston and Winooski. It was the fifth survey done by the group and results were compared with the previous survey from 2013.

Results of the survey were released last month.

Questions covered topics focused on individual actions people might take to reduce stormwater runoff, focusing on lawn care, pet waste disposal, car washing, and gutters, as well as whether people are willing to pay fees.

Lawn care: The survey found more people keeping grass and leaves out of the streets and ditches, which prevents storm drains and culverts from clogging.

• 21 percent of respondents reported using commercial fertilizer, down from 29 percent in 2013.

• 91 percent said they either compost, mulch and/or bag fallen leaves, up from 76 percent in 2013.

Pet waste disposal: Pet waste adds excessive nutrients and bacterial pollution to water, harming water quality and causing health problems that often lead to beach closures due to high E. coli levels. The survey found improvement in how people handle dog waste.

• When taking their dog for a walk in the winter, only 2 percent of dog owners surveyed in 2018 reported leaving dog waste on the ground or street, down from 16 percent in 2013.

• Only 2 percent of dog walkers in parks and on trails reported leaving dog waste on the ground, down from 25 percent in 2013.

The survey asked how much people would be willing to pay on a monthly basis to combat problems caused by stormwater. A third of those surveyed in 2013 said they would be willing to pay $1-$6; 40 percent in the recent survey were receptive to that amount. The number of respondents unwilling to be charged any fee dropped to 15 percent from 30 percent five years ago.

When asked what they would do personally in the next two years to help minimize the impact of stormwater runoff, 12 percent said they would install a rain barrel, 14 percent said they would plant a rain garden and 14 percent said they would plant more trees on their property.

The survey included responses from 386 individuals from a random sample of 2,400 households in the nine communities; it has a reliability of +/- 5 percent. The full survey results and information about the Rethink Runoff campaign are online at rethinkrunoff.org.

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