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Tailoring Outreach Programs to Minority and Disadvantaged Communities and Children

Minimum Measure: Public Education and Outreach on Stormwater Impacts

Subcategory: Promoting the Stormwater Message

Photo Description:  Educational materials can be written in both English and other languages to ensure that a program's messages reaches all intended audiences


Many residents of ethnically and culturally diverse communities don't speak English. English messages contained in signs, brochures, advertisements, newsletters and other outreach materials are mostly lost on these groups. For example, in areas like southern Florida and southern California, home to large populations of Spanish-speaking immigrants, it is important to engage non-English speaking residents and inform them about the importance of clean water because like any other community, their activities can generate a substantial amount of stormwater pollution. This type of expanded outreach program is not limited to these areas. Census 2000 figures show increasing minority populations in urban centers and suburbs such as Washington, DC (Fernandez, 2001; Cohn and Witt, 2001), and New York (Cohn, 2001), among others.

Communities can also target other groups for outreach activities. Disadvantaged persons may not have the opportunity to learn about or participate in existing programs or activities. Municipal representatives can design and implement education programs in poorer neighborhoods to address the concerns of residents, and they can suggest ways these residents can improve their neighborhood and environment.


Municipalities typically know the locations of ethnic and low-income neighborhoods. However, historic boundaries between neighborhoods may not be accurate. It is important for municipalities to survey residents about neighborhood demographics and determine if a specialized campaign is needed in a particular area. A survey can target areas that the municipality deems likely to contain minority and disadvantaged residents. Municipalities can seek assistance from sociology departments at local universities to help with the survey effort, or they can hire a firm specializing in focus groups and polling to conduct the research.

Once minority and disadvantaged groups have been identified, an analysis of the target group should be conducted. This analysis should determine the audience's perception of stormwater issues. Knowing this helps the municipality tailor the outreach program to the appropriate knowledge base and address specific issues of concern. Tailoring the message will help motivate the groups to participate in the program. For example, does the audience know what a watershed is? Do they understand the causes of polluted runoff? If not, those terms should be defined in the messages.

To more effectively develop, format and distribute environmental messages, it helps to know how the target audience receives its information. Which newspapers, magazines, or newsletters do they read? To what organizations do they belong? Do they watch cable television or local news? Do they listen to community radio programs? Who are their opinion leaders, and how can they be reached?


After gathering information on the target audience, a message should be crafted to engage them and help them achieve the objectives of the program. To be effective, the target audience must understand the message. It should appeal to them on their own terms.

Tailoring Programs for Minorities. Stormwater goals are more likely to be met by reaching the largest audience possible. However, smaller target audiences may need to be identified to ensure the message is understood. These smaller audiences include specific age groups, demographics, and nationalities. If the target audience contains a number of minority groups, the outreach strategy should address each individually. Minority group representatives can help develop the outreach strategy. Their insight can help ensure the message conveyed is the message intended.

In bilingual areas, materials should be developed in both English and the local language. Furthermore, care should be taken to ensure that the translation is accurate and the meaning of the message is not lost or changed. A classic example of a marketing mishap occured when General Motors introduced its Chevy Nova to Latin America. In Spanish "no va" means "it won't go," making the car very unattractive to buyers. Translated into Chinese, Pepsi's catch phrase "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" means "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." The language of the message should not only be correct but understandable. Scientific jargon should be avoided, and terms associated with the initiative (e.g., stormwater and runoff) should be clearly defined. Graphics should be used to convey the message, rather than text. If text must be used, it should be kept brief, direct, and clear. If the reading level of the audience (especially children) is unknown, the message can be pretested with representatives of the target group to determine its suitability.

Partnering with minority organizations can be the best way to reach a minority audience. Temples, churches, civic organizations, etc. interact with minority communities and understand their perspectives and motivations. They can provide specific information about the target group, and they can serve as an authority through which to channel the message. Organization leaders can be informed about the program's objectives and why it matters to their community. Organizations can announce upcoming events at meetings and services, publish releases in newsletters and notices, and organize presentations. It is important to stress how stormwater pollution prevention affects them in particular.

The news media are an important and powerful means of communicating watershed messages to both targeted and broad audiences (See Using the Media fact sheet. When a campaign is initiated, minority-focused newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations in the area should be contacted. The proper format--whether in English, another language, or both--should be provided. Public service announcements and headlines should be culturally appropriate.

Tailoring Programs for Disadvantaged Communities. The same principles used to target specific audiences can apply to disadvantaged communities. A stormwater pollution message should be specific and tied to community values (such as clean drinking water or clean waters for fishing and recreation). The audience should know what their direct benefit will be from getting involved in the issue or modifying their behavior. For example, turning off the water hose when not in use can save them money on their water bill. Messages should be positive. Positive messages tend to be more effective in changing people's habits than negative ones: "Collect your used motor oil" instead of "Don't dump your oil." Other benefits that could be listed include money savings, time savings, convenience, health improvements, and efficiency. The message should focus on making the behavior change requested, the involvement needed, and the support required, user-friendly.

Tailoring Programs for Children. An outreach program can target children in many ways. Perhaps the easiest is through schools and day care centers. Child-targeted materials like posters, flyers and stickers, can be displayed in school libraries and playgrounds. Teachers might be willing to hand-out stormwater materials or organize special events, like stormwater pollution day or stormwater awareness month. Many watershed outreach programs sponsor water festivals that feature games, interactive booths, river and beach cleanups and essay contests. Stormwater pollution programs have often partnered with schools on poster, logo and slogan contests, with the winning entries used in outreach materials. Participants can receive certificates, T-shirts, posters and stickers.

Outreach materials for children should be simple and understandable. Graphics such as photos and mascots can help convey the message. Mascots become familiar faces, with distinct personalities, stories, and lives of their own. Child-friendly mascots can be used in comics, displays, and festivals. They can be featured in calendars, in student lessons and activities, such as skits or puppet shows, and on banners and posters. Interactive materials, like workbooks, "laboratory" experiments, puzzles and games, are especially effective because children learn more by doing than by simply "being told." Many stormwater program websites have added an interactive "kids' page" where children can learn about stormwater pollution by solving puzzles, playing games, and performing experiments on the Internet.

Involving children's organizations in specific, hands-on projects can help spread the message. Approach children's groups to help with stream cleanups, wetland plantings, and volunteer monitoring. Most stormwater programs partner with youth groups during storm drain stenciling projects. Such activities can be incorporated into the group's curriculum. For example, by participating in a storm drain stenciling project, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts can earn environmental badges.

Community Calendar Gets the Message Out. In 1992, San Diego's Chollas Creek Watershed's Environmental Health Coalition (EHC) mailed a bilingual calendar to every business and home in their target watershed area. Winning entries from a school poster contest provided the art for each month. The English and Spanish calendar contained specific information on the different types of non-point source pollution, and offered tips on how residents could reduce their contribution to water pollution in San Diego Bay. Because a large portion of its target audience was ethnically diverse, the EHC expanded its calendar to include dates of interest to these communities. The calendar noted dates such as Kwanzaa, Boun Soang Heua, and the Chicano Moratorium. The EHC also included dates of activities from neighborhood churches, activity centers, and community groups. The center of the calendar featured a pull-out of a watershed painting by a renowned local artist. The calendar was printed on recycled paper using soy-based inks.

The calendar's success spawned similar calendars in two states and in Mexico. Though expensive and time-consuming to produce, the calendar provided education on water pollution prevention over an entire year, and represented a gift from the EHC (through their Chollas Creek Project) to the community.


Targeting specific groups can be effective when municipalities understand the cultural, language, and special needs of such groups. Municipalities can gauge the effectiveness of their targeted outreach programs by monitoring participation in watershed cleanup and other environmental activities. They can survey residents about changes in their behavior resulting from outreach efforts, (See Attitude Surveys, or Stream Cleanup and Monitoring) and they can examine general environmental conditions (evidence of stormwater pollution, such as trash or motor oil spills) in or downstream from ethnic neighborhoods or low-income areas.


Targeting specific audiences, especially if they constitute a large proportion of the population, yield many benefits. If the outreach program is tailored to a specific audience, the participants are more likely to feel that they are an important part of the effort. They can learn specific ways they help create stormwater pollution and how it affects their neighborhood's environment and quality of life. They also learn what they can do to help curb stormwater pollution and improve conditions in their neighborhood.


By understanding the cultural issues, language barriers, and specific needs of their ethnic neighborhoods, municipalities can better engage and respond to residents involved in environmental efforts. Research is the key to identifying where target audiences live and how they get their information. The more a municipality knows about their target audience, the better they can use their limited resources to convey their message.


The cost of targeting specific groups depends on the particular outreach materials and programs that are developed. Public service announcements and other news releases are generally free of charge, but staff time for preparation can be substantial. Costs for outreach materials vary widely, but municipalities can choose a medium appropriate to the available resources.


Cohn, D. 2001, March 16. Immigration fueling big U.S. cities. The Washington Post, p. A1.

Cohn, D. and A. Witt. 2001, March 20. Minorities fuel growth in Md. suburbs. The Washington Post, p. A1.

Environmental Health Coalition. 1992. How to Create a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Campaign. Environmental Health Coalition, San Diego, CA.

Fernandez, M. 2001, April 5. City underwent major racial shifts in '90s, census shows. The Washington Post, p. D3.

The Council of State Governments. No date. Getting in Step: A Guide to Effective Outreach in Your Watershed. The Council of State Governments, Lexington, KY.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In Press. Understanding a Sense of Place: A Guide to Analyzing Community Culture and the Environment. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.


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Last updated on May 24, 2006