Communicating BWTF Results
This page provides guidance to Blue Water Task Force (BWTF) coordinators and volunteers who would like to build awareness of their BWTF program, water quality issues that are affecting their local communities, and inform safe recreation based on the chapter's water quality results. There are many ways a chapter can affectively share their results with local communities. Keep reading for best practices on each of these approaches.
About the Blue Water Task Force
The Blue Water Task Force is the largest volunteer beach water quality monitoring program in North America, and empowers Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer citizen scientists to provide critical water quality information to protect public health at the beach.
Program Numbers (as of July 2023):
54 Blue Water Task Force Labs
450+ Beaches Monitored
9,000+ Samples Collected Annually
25+ Years in Operation
Blue Water Task Force programs are set up to augment and extend the sampling that is done by agency-run beach monitoring programs. Along with popular ocean and bay beaches, Blue Water Task Force labs monitor potential freshwater sources of pollution such as stormwater outlets, rivers and creeks that discharge onto the beach. The Blue Water Task Force fills in data gaps and provides more water quality information to keep people safe.
Blue Water Task Force labs use an EPA-approved methodology to measure levels of fecal bacteria - enterococcus or E. coli- in recreational waters. All results are compared to local water quality standards set to prevent you or your family from getting sick at the beach.
When recreating in sewage-polluted water, you could get sick with gastrointestinal illnesses, sinus and ear infections, skin rashes, or worse (staph infection, salmonella, leptospirosis, MRSA, etc). The higher the level of the fecal indicator bacteria enterococcus or e.coli, the higher the risk of other illness-causing pathogens being present in the water as well. All Blue Water Task Force results are publicly available on its public database - bwtf.surfrider.org. Data generated from this program are leveraged to raise awareness of local pollution problems and bring together communities to implement solutions.
The easiest way for Blue Water Task Force labs to reach a captive audience is by sharing results or BWTF program information on the parent Chapter’s social media platforms. Posting water quality information on social media provides a platform for community members to share those results themselves, comment, ask questions, and tag their friends so they can learn more.
Options for Sharing:
- A beautiful photo of one of your sampling locations
- A photo or selfie of one of your volunteer samplers
- A saved image of your map and results from the assets page
- All of the above!
- Include information about enterococcus or bacteria of interest
- Tag your local partners and encourage them to re-share!
- Link back to the BWTF website and your Lab Full Report, or use our quicklink- go.surfrider.org/bwtf for the national map
- Pro-tip: Link Facebook and Instagram accounts to post on both platforms at once
Feel free to also explore the #BlueWaterTaskForce hashtag on Instagram for inspiration.
Grab & Go Social Media Language:
Check out this week’s #BlueWaterTaskForce results. Our volunteers sampled X beaches for enterococcus, and all results came back clean except X, which had [medium/high] bacteria levels. Visit bwtf.surfrider.org (or link in bio) for details.
Water quality report emails
Water quality report emails provide an avenue for your chapter to send water quality results directly to a subscriber’s inbox. Using the BWTF website, it's simple for chapters to send out their own Water Quality Report email each time they go out sampling.
Via HubSpot: To get set up with the BWTF HubSpot Template, contact your regional staff or email@example.com. See below for a sneak peak of the template in action.
Once this HubSpot template is set up in your account, you’ll need to plug in the map photo and table of results every time you have new data. Click here for specific directions on how to use this template.
If you’d prefer not to use the HubSpot Template, you can simply copy & paste the map and table into any blank email. To do this, make sure you are signed in to the website. Then, navigate to your Lab Full Report page, and click on the “assets” tab at the top. From here, copy and paste the table and map provided into an email, and send away!
Water Quality Report email components:
- Chapter logo
- Date of report
- Quick summary deciphering results
- Map of results
- Table of results
- Partner logos (if you have partners)
- Program summary (blue box of text)
- Acknowledgment of sponsors (if you have any)
Best practices for sending out these reports:
- The subject of your email should include the date(s) your samples were taken.
- Provide a description of the results included in your email. For example, if it just rained and bacteria levels are high, explain that correlation. These emails are a great teaching/learning opportunity!
- Ask your local health department or government officials if they would like to subscribe to WQ Report emails, so they can keep track of the chapter’s results and any water quality trends that might risk public health.
- Always, always send yourself or someone else in your chapter a test email before sending to subscribers. Check to make sure links are all working and everything looks as planned.
- Avoid using the term “citizen science” when describing the program, and instead use “volunteer water quality monitoring” or “community science”. To understand why this language is important, check out this blog.
Annual water quality reports
After a BWTF program has over a year of sampling under its belt, chapters are encouraged to take the time and review their results to identify any data trends, and evaluate the effectiveness of their sampling program.
Some Surfrider chapters write up annual reports that discuss trends in local water quality and highlight potential problem areas. These reports provide a description of the chapter's program and in-depth discussion of local water quality trends beyond the most recent results. Chapters are also able to use their annual water quality reports to earn further community awareness and media coverage by posting them on the chaper’s website and sending the report to local news groups with a press release.
The new website supplies great examples of site-specific analyses, providing data visualization tools for each sampling location. The graphs and statistics included (% of samples above health limit, graph of site over time) are the most recommended when it comes to analyzing BWTF data.
As always, it’s best before diving into data analysis to determine what questions you are asking and what you’re trying to learn from your data. Are you wondering which are your cleanest beaches, or which are the most problematic? Are you wondering how tide affects water quality at your beaches, or recent rain? Before you begin any analysis, it’s best to get in touch with your “why.”
If you’re interested in diving in to analyze some of your data, but don’t know where to start, check out these below examples of Water Quality Reports released by chapters across Surfrider's network:
- Oahu 2021 Blue Water Task Force Annual Report
- Maui 2020 Blue Water Task Force Annual Report
- Eastern Long Island 2020 Blue Water Task Force Annual Report
- Eastern Long Island’s 2018 Blue Water Task Force Report
- Marin County Chapter’s 2016 Blue Water Task Force Water Quality Update
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or need ideas. Or, if your chapter has created a report, we would love to link to it on this resource, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Providing your community with an overview of the Blue Water Task Force Program can be done in a variety of ways! Community presentations provide a great opportunity to tie water pollution problems to solutions that everyone can get involved with. Luckily, we’ve developed a Blue Water Task Force Presentation Template for you to use.
Chapter Meetings: Blue Water Task Force coordinators are encouraged to give a program description and an overview of results at all chapter meetings to increase community awareness of this program. Chapter meetings serve as a good opportunity for volunteer recruitment and fundraising for ongoing BWTF costs.
Special shoutout to the Vancouver Island Chapter who gave a sample demonstration at one of their Chapter Meetings.
Water Quality Workshops: Many people tend to be interested in the Blue Water Task Force, but only a small percentage of those people are available to volunteer for routine sampling. In an effort to engage those folks who wanted to learn more, your chapter can hold a water quality workshop! At this workshop, you can educate the participants about local sources of pollution, sites tested, why you’re sampling is important, and introduce them to the method and some of the results. This is also a great time to tie some of those problems to tangible solutions (do not waste water on your property, apply ocean-friendly landscaping practices, pick up your animal’s waste, etc.)
Chapters began doing water quality workshops a few years ago, where participants collected mock-samples to get a feel for what it’s like to be a water tester. It’s a fun-for-the-whole-family event, and could even be a great way to mass-train a group of individuals who are interested in sampling.
Tabling at Beach Cleanups or other Surfrider Events: The San Diego Chapter has had success drumming up interest about the Blue Water Task Force simply by popping up a Blue Water Task Force table at their routine beach cleanups.
School Science Classes: Using the contacts that your Chapter may have with local schools or student clubs, Blue Water Task Force activists can volunteer an afternoon to present to school students, either in the school or as part of a field trip. When BWTF labs are set up at schools, BWTF is commonly run as part of a school’s STEM curriculum because following water sampling procedures is an application of the scientific method - with real-life implications! Read about the Montauk School’s Sampling Field Trip. Make sure to leave the students with handouts where they can check the water quality online, and encourage their families to as well.
Other Marine Science Groups: Utilize your on-the-ground networks to spread knowledge of your Blue Water Task Force program and results, and how they impact other group’s constituents. For example, the South Sound Chapter in Washington gave a BWTF presentation to a local SCUBA group to educate divers about the impacts of pollution in Tacoma, Gig Harbor, and the southern Puget Sound region.
Any Other Outreach: Being involved with Surfrider means that you likely have a very diverse network of individuals that all benefit from the work that we do every day, so get creative! Any outreach done on the local level helps to not only prevent people from getting sick after a day at the beach, but also helps connect the dots in order to solve community water pollution problems. That’s what it’s all about!
Tools for in-person outreach
There are times when Surfrider volunteers are out in the field and do not have access to wifi, but still need to get BWTF information across- whether in the context of an island-wide power outage (We love you, Puerto Rico), or simply tabling at a beach cleanup. These moments require in-person data visualization tools to help communicate your results. With a few simple tools, you can take your in-person outreach to the next level.
Lightbox & blacklight: If you save some Quanti-Trays from sampling, you can purchase a hand-held blacklight, and make a DIY lightbox - upcycled cardboard boxes work wonders - to show people the results-reading portion of our method. Glowing trays are always a crowd pleaser!
Blue Water Task Force Poster: Another very useful tool is a Blue Water Task Force poster that can be brought to tabling events. Work with your local printing company to create and print a “Custom Print Dry Erase Poster,” that shows your map, sampling sites, and a blank area for your most recent results. This allows for results to be filled in and erased, and the poster can be used long-term. If that’s not an option, the chapter can just print a poster including a map of your sampling sites and typical, representative data.
Visual Representations of Data Over Time: Most people find it easier to learn visually. And for this reason, we visual learners. Sometimes, seeing data graphed over time really helps people to understand water quality trends. For example, this graph below is on the wall at the Depoe Bay BWTF lab in Oregon.
Any and all outreach efforts provide a great opportunity for you to raise awareness of local water quality conditions, raise money for the program, recruit new volunteers, and collect email subscribers for water quality alerts.
Local press & media
A central tenet of the BWTF is bringing together communities to find solutions to pollution problems. We do this by providing valuable water quality information to the community and making our local government officials aware of pollution problems in our communities.
Some chapters have developed great working relationships with local press and media and have been successful in achieving routine coverage of water quality results. That said, the coverage of your program from local press groups can determine the success of your chapter having a healthy relationship with local government officials. What’s more, talking to reporters can be nerve-wracking! So we’ve put together a list of do’s and don’ts below for you to set you up for success.
- Be prepared. Have the key points you would like to get across ready and rehearsed.
- Be educational, informative, and optimistic. Explain the pollution problems that affects your community, and how your program responds to them
- Reference the information above in “About the Blue Water Task Force,” It’s okay to pat yourself in the back, we do great work!
- Respond right away! Many times reporters work on tight deadlines.
- Thank them for their time. Get to know journalists, and allow them to get to know you. Providing them with valuable news and information will go a long way toward building a lasting relationship.
- Point fingers where pollution problems may occur. While we may not always be successful in gaining government support or awareness of pollution problems, we want to tread lightly and not burn bridges. Calling out your local government or a homeowner is not a great way to make an ally.
- Say anything that you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of your local newspaper. The microphone is always on when you’re being interviewed.
- Make it sound like our data is determinative. Unless your chapter has done or can cite source tracking studies, we cannot say for certain whether high bacteria levels are caused by dogs, birds, or humans. However, we can say, “ the sampling location is directly downstream from a dog park,” or “many septic systems in the area are over capacity and could be leaking,” or, “it had just rained, so high bacteria results are likely a result of stormwater runoff.”
Having healthy, lasting relationships with journalists and local media outlets can help your BWTF program immensely by reaching audiences beyond your chapter members and followers.
We hope you find this information helpful. If your chapter has done any successful outreach in addition to what’s included in this resource, we’d love to include it to set up other chapters for success! Just drop Michelle a line at email@example.com.