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Think Blue

Clean-water Outreach Initiative Follows the Current to Western Mass.

His name is Stormy. He’s a cheeky, bright yellow duck that serves as the mascot of Think Blue Massachusetts, a burgeoning environmental campaign in the Commonwealth aimed at fostering and maintaining clean water.

Stormy is more than just a pretty face. He pens his own Think Blue newsletter called the Stormy Report, operates a Stormy Store, offers ‘Stormy Tips’ on the Think Blue Web site, and often visits community events to raise awareness of Think Blue’s message, resplendent in all of his 15-foot, inflatable glory.
Anne Capra, senior planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and an administrator of Think Blue’s local component, Connecticut River Think Blue, is a fan.

“Stormy’s quite a draw,” she said. “Kids love him, of course, but I think anyone who sees a giant yellow duck wants to come by and see what he’s all about.”

Still, Stormy is just one aspect of a much larger initiative that’s making some important inroads in Western Mass. Think Blue, an environmental campaign aimed at clean water, is a brand that originated in San Diego, Calif. in the early years of this decade, as part of efforts undertaken by that city and its suburbs to battle pollution issues in their coastal water bodies. In 2006, officials from Boston caught wind of the initiative and decided to create their own Massachusetts-based version in conjunction with the Massachusetts Bay Estuary Assoc. (MBEA), with hopes of gradually extending the program’s reach across New England.

Stormy is a part of the mission. To separate Think Blue Massachusetts from its California counterpart, MBEA charged Dwell Creative, an advertising and public relations firm in Portland, Maine that specializes in promoting environmental and cultural change, with creating a touchstone that could float easily within all types of water bodies in the northeast, including its inland rivers.

Capra said the Connecticut River Think Blue campaign, which operates as part of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and is focused on communities in the Connecticut River Valley (particularly in Hampshire and Hampden counties), is the first version of Think Blue Massachusetts to be launched outside of the Greater Boston area.

“All of our communities are connected to the Connecticut River in some way,” she said. “We see it as a common thread that ties many different towns and cities together. It’s the longest river in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, so it’s important to keep it clean, but also to understand what types of things contribute to its pollution.”

Take Me to the River

Capra told BusinessWest that the majority of pollutants reach rivers, lakes, ponds, and coastal areas through storm-water runoff, leaving behind deposits of a variety of substances, ranging from chemical fertilizers to automotive oil to pet waste. She said the federal Clean Water Act of 1972, which set in motion a number of regulatory and remedial mechanisms to improve the nation’s overall water quality, addressed many additional issues over time, but storm-water pollution remains a problem for many communities.

“The EPA passed the Clean Water Act to better regulate discharge of pollutants in our waters,” said Capra, “but the waters that are still polluted are so because of storm-water drainage. Massachusetts in particular has a big problem with this.”

Think Blue has become a good fit for the environmental issues of the Commonwealth in general for this reason, but it’s also well-suited for the PVPC, which added Think Blue to an existing suite of clean-water programs by joining the Massachusetts coalition in 2007.

The Connecticut River Cleanup Committee (CRCC), for instance, was founded in 1993 to address combined sewer overflows into the river.

Representatives from five local communities — Springfield, Ludlow, Holyoke, Chicopee, and South Hadley — work in tandem with the PVPC to identify funding sources for all of the municipalities, as well as to plan cooperative cleanup activities. These efforts are mandated in all five communities by the EPA, which monitors negative water impacts along the Connecticut River in addition to other rivers across the country.

Similarly, the CRCC’s Stormwater Subcommittee has been in place since 2003, formed in response to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System’s (NPDES) requirements. At this time, membership in the program, which is currently in ‘Phase II’ and centers on public education and outreach, was opened to cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire counties to assist them in fulfilling federal mandates.

Capra explained that Think Blue has become a perfect umbrella for these existing initiatives, creating an even more cooperative environment for participating cities and towns, as well as an effective marketing tool to add other communities to the fold.

“Communities need to regulate and manage storm water, and they need to implement different things, including community education and awareness programs to reduce pollutants,” she said.

While not all cities and towns are bound by these regulations, there are more than 20 in Hampden and Hampshire counties that are — those that abut the Connecticut River or larger-sized ‘hub’ communities, such as Springfield or Northampton. “Many communities in our region were already doing things, but we wanted to pool our resources and make a more regional campaign that could have a greater impact.”

To date, 11 municipalities are involved with Connecticut River Think Blue. All five of the CRCC communities have signed on, and have been joined by Easthampton, Granby, Agawam, Longmeadow, West Springfield, and Westfield.

Within these cities and towns, Connecticut River Think Blue is focused on three specific audiences with which it works to raise awareness about how daily activities affect water resources. Working with homeowners, school-aged children, and municipal offices and public officials, the campaign has a strong educational component that is meant to instruct people in how to better manage potential pollutants such as landscaping fertilizers, pet waste, and general litter — especially cigarette butts, the most littered item in the U.S., creating 176 million pounds of waste each year.

Blue Is the New Green

Capra said habits such as failing to remove a pet’s waste while on a walk or even washing the car in the driveway using synthetic cleaners may seem like a drop in the bucket when it comes to water pollution. But when thousands of people engage in the same activities, the problem becomes sizeable, and this, essentially, is why Think Blue exists.

“Changing behaviors is a very difficult, complicated thing to do,” she said. “We had to think long and hard about what we were going to target — what groups of people, and which behaviors. We want to break things down and get the message across that people can take steps to improve their habits; it doesn’t need to be hard, and it doesn’t need to happen all at once. Think Blue is one way we can hold people’s hands, so to speak.”

Capra said that, over the past year, Connecticut River Think Blue has launched a series of programs within the 11 participating communities, often as pilot programs in just one city or town that can be replicated in other areas once they’ve been tested and finalized.

The first of these efforts is called ‘Greenscapes,’ designed to address the impact landscaping can have on surrounding bodies of water. The program is underway now in Ludlow, Agawam, and Easthampton, and is geared toward several different sectors, including single-family households and various types of businesses, such as landscapers and farms. Each municipality contributes $2,000 each year to the initiative to fund these programs, and the PVPC also works to secure grant funding from state and federal sources.

As part of this new program in the region (it’s sponsored in part by the EPA and operates in other parts of the country in various ways), 19,000 homes received the ‘Greenscapes Guide’ this year. It offers landscaping tips to help protect water sources, composting tutorials, information on how to secure irrigation system audits, and how-tos for planting low-maintenances blooms and ‘rain gardens,’ which require little watering beyond what Mother Nature provides.

In addition, Capra said the PVPC has also entered into a partnership with NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Assoc., which includes 10 participating farms in the Connecticut River Valley, to host workshops looking at similar topics throughout the spring and summer.

Think Blue has also called upon the area’s garden centers to participate as well, both externally as a community resource (informational kiosks are now being devised) and internally, working to make their own green houses even greener, or, in this case, a little bluer.

One such center, Randall’s Farm and Greenhouse in Ludlow, has become Greenscapes’ premier participant.

“We’re hoping to get several garden centers involved, because it points people in the right direction when they’re trying to curb pollution in their own yards,” Capra said. “Once they learn what methods to use, they need to know which products to buy, and garden centers are where they’re going to go.”

Bring Back That Sunny Day

With Stormy at the helm, all of these endeavors are coupled with marketing efforts that spread the Think Blue message. Capra said the PVPC uses print, radio, television, direct mail, and point-of-sale media to get the word out, but this year, the primary thrust of Think Blue’s outreach will be community- and event-based.

“We’re working on getting out into the communities and talking to various groups at least once a week,” Capra said, noting that these include chambers of commerce and libraries, where children are reached through games, books, and other activities. “We’re also getting out into the community at events — we’re setting up at farmer’s markets across the region, and soon, we’re going to be featured at the Big E.”

Stormy is slated to attend the Big E along with Capra and her staff, and it’s likely that he’ll attract some new audiences. There’s just something about a bright yellow duck that makes people stop and pay attention.

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