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Summary of EPA National Dialogue With Lake Michigan Watershed Academy Conference

Hammond, Indiana
May 20-22, 2008

1. Purpose

This report summarizes preliminary findings about the environmental information needs, preferences, and access behaviors of participants in the Lake Michigan Watershed Academy Conference held at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana on May 20-22, 2008.

The three-day interactive conference concerned water quality issues and regional policy development relevant to Lake Michigan and the Basin, and it’s watersheds in Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. This conference was the result of an ongoing multi-year collaboration with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the USEPA Great Lakes National Program Office with the express purpose of promoting improved implementation of high-priority Lake Michigan Lake-wide Management Plan (LaMP) goals to advance restoration of impaired beneficial uses in the Lake.  This conference provided information sharing and additional training to facilitate policy development and implementation of the LaMP recommendations within the Lake Michigan.

2. Approach

On May 20,  a USEPA Region 5 representative presented a session on the National Dialogue on Access to Environmental Information, EPA’s approach to engaging the public on ways to better meet our customers’ needs for environmental information.  He pointed out that this Conference provides the opportunity for feedback by a specific stakeholder group, regional watershed planners to EPA on: (1) the type of information the planners are looking for from EPA; (2) uses of the information; (3) ways in which environmental information is sought; and (4) formats of the information.  He distributed National Dialogue “flyers” and hardcopy handouts on four questions to each Conference participant and then discussed results with the attendees on May 22, 2008Feedback was collected through hardcopy and subsequent discussions. He also mentioned that the attendees couldsubmit comments on the National Dialogue websiteuntil the end of June 2008:  http://www.epa.gov/nationaldialogue/.  The information was compiled on each of the four questions and is summarized in the following report.

3. What We Know about This Audience and Subgroups

Conference Attendees:

  # % Total
  • Regional Organizations
41 34.5
  • Environmental Organizations
16 13.4
  • University
12 10.1
  • Contractors/Private Organizations
11 9.2
  • U.S. EPA
10 8.4
  • Municipal Organizations
8 6.7
  • State Environmental Organizations
6 5.0
  • Other Federal Organizations
7 5.9
  • Public
3 2.5
  • Media
3 2.5
  • Other State Organizations
1 0.8
  • Tribal Organizations
    1 0.8

Total Registrants


Organizations Represented: Attachment 4

As can be seen from the above, the audience was comprised of a variety of stakeholders from around Lake Michigan interested in information sharing and training to facilitate development and implementation of watershed-related policy.  The main focus of the Conference was to inform local organizations, and many of the presenters who also are included above were from U.S. EPA, universities and private organizations.  It should be noted that most of the presenters did not participate in the National Dialogue exercise.

4. Types of Environmental & Public Health Information which Participants Use

The Conference attendees above were involved and interested in learning and applying the latest information regarding: (1) local watershed planning and decision making, (2) natural resource management and environmental protection; (3) data and decision support tools for use at the local level and (4) coordination, access, and cooperation between local, state, and federal resources. 

a. Topics of Interest
The topics rated in order of highest to lowest score were:

 Topic  Score Total Sum  Responses
Water use and availability, & connections with land use 4.2 63 15
Invasive species 3.9 50 13
Environmental and human health interactions 3.6 50 14
Climate change 3.4 48 14
Toxic releases 3.4 47 14
Drinking water 3.1 44 14
Endocrine disruptors 3.1 31 10
Air pollution 3.0 42 14
Genetically modified organisms 2.8 25 9
New air toxins 1.9 17 9

Because the focus of the Conference was primarily on watershed planning, the rankings above were not surprising.  In fact, other topics written in included: soil quality, carbon dioxide (CO2), fish & wildlife exotic invasive species, watershed management, wetlands, water quality, and effectiveness of pollution control measures.

b. Characteristics of information

The following characteristics were rated in order:

 Characteristic  Score Total Sum  Responses
Quality (confidence in accuracy of data & analyses) 4.6 64 14
Access (“link-ability” comparability, integration) 4.5 59 13
Scale (Appropriate/useful geographical level of info)  4.4 66 15
Trends (e.g., water quality in Lake Ontario 2000-05) 4.4 61 14
Timeliness 4.3 54 13
Transparency 4.2 54 13

From the above information, one would conclude that all characteristics were important to the responders.  Transparency was rated the lowest primarily likely because responders were not certain what it really meant.

c. Ease of obtaining information

All respondents seem to indicate that easy access to the right information was important.  There were a variety of views from the audience on this. Specific comments included: (1) getting USEPA GIS data is difficult; (2) getting Envirofacts, etc. is easy and (3) getting physical feature data is easy but sampling data is hard to get.   One respondent said, “Why should it be difficult [for us to access the information]? We’re a planning organization. We should probably have broad access.” 

d. Types accessed through EPA Web site

 Types of information  Score Total Sum  Responders
Environmental trends over time  4.1 58 14
EPA’s priorities  3.8 53 14
Background on environmental issues  3.5 49 14
EPA’s information needs  3.2 42 13

Just as trends information was an important characteristic in b. above, it ranked above other types here. 

5.  Uses for environmental information

 Uses of information  Score Total Sum  Responders
Non-regulatory purposes 4.9 59 12
Public education, outreach 4.6 60 13
Collaboration / partnerships 4.5 59 13
Inform decision making or affecting regulations 4.1 58 14
Research 3.9 58 14
Compliance with specific regulations 3.2 42 13

The above rankings are a reflection of the local organizational audience and specifically how EPA’s information could be used and discussed.   Responders pointed out the importance of using the information for Regional planning and prioritizationThis audience requires general public information for watershed and local government public meetings. 

Dissemination of information

Types of Information:  The types of information provided by the participants’ organizations to their customers included:  biological, invasive species, physical, chemical, master plans, watershed management plans, fact sheets, local government, land use, natural resources.  One responder commented that they would insert such information in plans and presentations to educate our constituents (levels of government, private entities, etc.) as well as to communicate with the public.  On-line models and user tools also assist local government decision makers and program managers that may not have the resources to collect, maintain and analyze within their own organizations.  One responder said, “I use environmental information for education.  I want to share your information on my web site.  I write articles on the topic, “Creating a Healthy Environment.”

Means of Dissemination:  Responders said that they used web sites, email, public meetings, presentations, and hardcopies, the latter especially in rural areas.

Problems/Concerns:  Regarding information use, it is important that new information be interpreted and that the interpretation should be understandable and relevant to local decision-makers.  Further, “too much information can make it difficult to find the right stuff.”

6.  Preferred formats for information

 Format  Score Total Sum  Responders
Scientific data (quantitative data, trends, graphs, indicators)  4.7  70  15
Fact sheets 4.4 57 13
Guidance documents 4.2 54 13
Presentations 4.1 57 14
Technical reports 3.9 51 13
Synthesis reports and summaries for policymakers 3.9 51 13
Journal articles 3.7 48 13
Regulations 3.5 45 13
Advisories 3.3 43 13
Administrative data 2.9 37 13
Press releases 2.7 38 14

Other Formats Used:     Responders mentioned “modern GIS and database formats and also desired more “user guidance.”  Some specific formats requested included geospatial formats (.shp, geodatabase, KML), Excel, SAS, and web services.  

EPA “legacy” database formats:  STORET, Toxics Release Inventory, NPDES database (PCS-> ICIS-NPDES->ECHO), and water chemistry

Interactive tools (i.e., maps or queries of databases)

 Interactive Tool  Score  Total Sum  Responders
TRI Explorer 3.3 20 6
Window to My Environment 3.7 26 7
National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) database 3.5 21 6

Other Interactive Tools Used:   Responses included Envirofacts, Surf Your Watershed, , BASINS, NHD Plus, National Land Cover Dataset, Watershed Boundary Delineations.  The Intranet applications, NEPAssist and Emergency Response (ER) Analyzer, were also mentioned by a U.S. EPA employee.  One responder commented, “Window to My Environment remains very clumsy.”

Other Comments:   This Conference included two concurrent training sessions on web-based tools: 

Web Planning Tools-Hands on Training Session A

Web Planning Tools-Hands on Training Session B

These web tools are used at various geographic scales and are bundled with data to assist local and regional planners and public citizens in making land use decisions.  Thus with these training sessions completed, some Conference attendees responded to the National Dialogue with request to U.S. EPA for access to more downloadable, geospatial data bases (e.g., into spreadsheets),  on-line Geographic Information System (GIS)/modeling.

Usefulness of information formats available through www.epa.gov:            

 Usefulness of Formats  Score Total Sum  Responders
Overall usefulness of formats available through www.epa.gov  4.4  35  8
Access to raw data vs. synthesis reports  4.1 58 14
Availability of information in preferred formats on www.epa.gov 3.6 40 11

Other comments included, “PDF maps, tables not useful for science, only for the lay public.  Please offer both [raw data and synthesized data].”

Another responder suggested using “web seminars.”

7. Channels for delivery of information

a. Frequently consulted sources of information

 Frequently Consulted Sources of Information  Score Total Sum  Responders
Web sites 4.6 65 14
Conferences / workshops  3.9 51 13
Personal networks and contacts 3.8 53 14
Primary sources 2.8 36 13
Newsletters 2.7 35 13
Libraries 1.8 23 13
Blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, podcasts   1.6 23 14
TV programs 1.4 18 13


 Channels and Venues  Score Total Sum  Responders
Frequently used web sites      
Subscriptions to journals, newsletters, online publications, and/or RSS feeds to keep up-to-date on environmental or public health issues 3.8 49 13
Reading blogs or participation in wikis 1.8 11 20

Frequently used web sites with environmental information: 

Other responses indicated that EPA’s Portal (http://portal.epa.gov) and associated collaborative tools (Workspaces, Messenger and Web Conferencing) were being used to share, discuss and develop documents in real time. Regardless of where the collaborators were located or regardless of organization (EPA/State/local/university), they could communicate and find posted information through the Portal.

Positive and negative features of these web sites:

Frequency of use:  Responses  on the use of web sites, wiki’s and blogs varied from daily, 3 to 5 times a week, biweekly, and monthly.

Useful blogs or wikis:  One response was using a software development wiki as well as web sites for GIS data access.

Common search strategies when seeking information:
Responses were geographic location, Google keyword, EPA home page, Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN), web sites, phone calls to Agency representatives, partnerships

Ease of access to data, including success rates:
One responder said that “EPA data is hard to get, but U.S. Geological Survey data is easy.”  Another said,” I am happy with the green  building sites.” 

Others said, “I like EPA’s site” and “good [ease of access].” 

8. Overall Summary  

With respect to topics, types, and uses, responses focused on (1) water related information, (2) information useful at the Regional planning and local scale, and (3) accessing GIS and web-based and accessible data and tools.

Needs from U.S. EPA included (1) quality assured and timely data and information across different scales, (2) integration of EPA and other data (e.g., economic, energy, public health), (3) environmental trends, (4) analytical tools and workspaces, and (5) collaboration and communication (with EPA & others).

We appreciate the feedback from the participants in the Lake Michigan Watershed Academy Conference on U.S EPA’s National Dialogue on Environmental Information.

Lake Michigan Watershed Academy Conference
Participating Organizations

Alliance for the Great Lakes
Argonne Nat. Laboratory
Association for the Wolf Lake Initiative
Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission
Brookings Institution
Center for Neighborhood Technology
Charlevoix County
Chicago Department of Environment
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
Chicago Wilderness Society
Christopher B. Burke Engineering West, Ltd.
City of Racine
City of Valparaiso
City of Whiting
Conservation Design Forum
Cook County
Ducks Unlimited
East Central WI Regional Planning Commission
East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
Environment Consulting & Tech
Environmental Activist
Federal Highway Administration Resource Center
Geosyntec Consultants
Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Illinois Lt. Governor's Office
Indiana Department of Environmental Management
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Indiana Lake Michigan Coastal Program
Indiana University Northwest
J.F. New & Associates, Inc.
Lake County Stormwater Management Commission
Little River Board of Ottawa Indians
Metropolitan Planning Council
Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality
Michigan State University
Muskegon Lake Watershed Partnership
Northwest Indiana Forum
Northwest Michigan Council of Governments
Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission
Purdue University
Racine Health Department
Save the Dunes Conservation Fund
Save the Dunes Council
Senator Dick Durbin's Office
Shabica & Associates, Inc.
Shedd Aquarium
Southcentral Michigan Planning Council
Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
Southwest Conference of Mayors
Southwest Michigan Planning Commission
The Delta Institute
The Times of Northwest Indiana
U.S.. Fish & Wildlife Service – Fisheries Program
U.S. EPA Office of Wetlands, Oceans & Watersheds (HQ)
U.S. EPA Region 5
USGS Wisconsin Water Service Center
UW-Extension with SEWRPC
Village of Palos Park
West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
Wisconsin Sea Grant 

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