June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA5

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Using Satellite Broadcasts to Educate the Public About Watershed Issues on a Regional Basis

The Pacific Northwest Water Quality team developed a series of three regional (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington) watershed issues satellite downlinked conferences that were delivered in 2002, 2003, and 2004 using a regional steering committee. These conferences were downlinked to a minimum of 38 educational sites each year with an annual attendance ranging from 300 to 1,000 educators, agency and non-profit personnel, and members of local watershed groups. Evaluations indicated that regional programming on certain topics is an efficient and effective alternative to individual state programming when both financial and human resources are limited in individual states.

Robert L. Mahler
Water Quality Coordinator
University of Idaho
Moscow, Idaho

Jan Seago
CES Liaison to EPA Region 10
Seattle, Washington

Robert Simmons
Water Quality Coordinator
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington

Scott Fedale
Information Department, CAHNRS
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington


Over the last decade, USDA-CSREES has encouraged regional rather than the traditional Extension state-by-state educational programming. When announcing the competitively funded 406 program for water quality, the agency requested proposals emphasizing regionally relevant Extension and education programs. As a consequence of this call for proposals, the water quality coordinators from the five land-grant institutions in the Pacific Northwest (Northwest Indian College, Oregon State University, University of Alaska, University of Idaho, Washington State University) developed an integrated regional proposal that emphasized watershed management, drinking water and human health, and water conservation and management.

This proposal was funded, and to meet the watershed management objectives, the team of Pacific Northwest water quality coordinators developed a regional program to address watershed management issues. The Pacific Northwest Water Quality Team consists of water quality coordinators from the region's five land-grant institutions and representatives from EPA Region 10 and the USDA- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Water quality in general, and watershed management in particular, has emerged as an intense political, environmental, and social issue throughout the USA. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) have increased the pressure on northwest communities to improve water quality and protect salmon populations. Fulfilling these mandates and meeting competing demands for water use requires innovative watershed-scale management approaches and cooperation. In the Pacific Northwest, watershed councils and planning units have been developed to address watershed issues. These groups are in different stages of development--from new coalitions, to long-standing vigorous groups, to withering ones.

Because many of these groups are watershed-based and often do not fit within the jurisdiction of a single state, Extension professionals deemed regional rather than single statewide educational programs were more appropriate to address needs in the Pacific Northwest. Another benefit seen was the opportunity for adjacent watershed groups to meet and share concerns and successes. Consequently, the Pacific Northwest Regional Water Quality Team with the support of USDA-CSREES and land-grant institutions within the region developed a series of three regional watershed issue themed satellite conferences delivered in 2002, 2003, and 2004. We identified a member of our regional team to lead this effort and to chair the steering committee.

Characteristics common to the three satellite conferences were: (1) sets of Web-based materials developed for participants to have in-hand at each down-linked site; (2) pre-produced video segments highlighting watershed activities; (3) a live panel of experts discussing appropriate topic issues; (4) live question and answer segment hosted by panelists; (5) toll free phone, fax, and email ability for people at down-linked sites to send their questions to the moderator for the live panelists; (6) on-site facilitation at each down-linked site; and (7) the availability of the entire program on DVD.

It should be noted that in 2002, most local Extension offices in the region were equipped with the satellite downlink equipment needed to receive educational programming transmitted via C or KU-band, steerable satellite dishes. Since 2003, many of our sites have lost this capability. However, almost anyone with a computer can view the live video streams of our broadcasts. As time goes by, more and more Extension educational facilities will probably rely almost exclusively on video streaming as their distribution medium of choice for video material. However, the programming discussed in this article was distributed primarily via satellite technology and simultaneously transmitted via video streaming for access by viewers who did not have easy access to one of the locally hosted satellite viewing sites.

Methods, Results, and Discussion

Development of Conference Themes

In 2001 a steering committee consisting of individuals from agencies and watershed groups throughout the four-state region (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) was formed to develop a specific watershed issues theme for the proposed 2002 regional satellite broadcast. The steering committee was comprised of two members from each of the land-grant institutions in the Pacific Northwest (Northwest Indian College, Oregon State University, University of Alaska, University of Idaho, Washington State University), EPA Region 10 staff from the Office of Ecosystems and Communities and the Office of Water, and representatives from six watershed groups in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In addition to determining the initial conference theme, the steering committee was key in: (1) determining the regional case studies to be highlighted in the broadcast, (2) overseeing the development of written materials provided to attendees, (3) selecting the panel of experts that would speak at the live broadcast, and (4) developing the conference evaluation mechanism.

The conference topic chosen for the May 2002 broadcast was "Living on the Edge: Grassroots Watershed Planning in the Pacific Northwest." The focus of this program was a video that illustrated how diverse community interests came together to resolve challenges and ultimately collaborate on watershed-based solutions. This broadcast was targeted toward local watershed planning groups (and interested individuals) that must take action to improve local water resources. Targeted group members included local, state, and federal governments, environmentalists, Indian tribes, and the business community. This program consisted of showing video clips, drawn from the video developed by Washington State University's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Sciences (CAHNRS) Information Department, followed by a live panel discussion. The panel fielded questions from the audience at downlinked sites. Facilitated discussions followed at each downlinked Extension learning site. Participants were provided with additional written and Web-based information about watershed planning at each of the downlink sites.

The evaluation mechanism used for the 2002 conference was developed to not only evaluate the interest in and the effectiveness of the program, but to also gather input on other high-priority watershed issues in the region that could be highlighted in a future regional watershed issues educational broadcast. The steering committee was able to collect and use this information to provide topical guidance for the 2003 conference theme. Attendees at the 2002 broadcast conference identified the need to establish sustainable funding sources to make the priorities of active watershed groups a reality on the ground. Consequently, the steering committee, in concurrence with the Pacific Northwest Regional Water Quality Team, identified the June 2003 conference topic as "Funding Watershed Restoration Projects in the Pacific Northwest."

To develop the second conference, Extension partnered with the EPA-supported Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at Boise State University. This conference focused on an interactive access-based planning tool developed by the EFC named Plan2Fundtm. Developed to aid in planning and prioritizing goals and budgetary considerations, the planning tool is a powerful addition to watershed groups' administration. Attendees at this 2003 satellite conference were also introduced to the Directory of Watershed Resources, a searchable database of more than 700 sources for potential funding for meeting watershed implementation activities. Complementing the array of planning and funding aids, a private enterprise grant writer and a public sector grant evaluator offered advice on structuring proposals for funding.

As in the previous year, the 2003 conference evaluation was used to solicit needs and ideas for the 2004 conference topic. Many evaluators commented that an important issue facing their functioning watershed groups was sustaining enthusiasm and community involvement in their group's activities. Accordingly, with this input and concurrence by the Pacific Northwest Regional Water Quality Team, the steering committee selected "Improving Community Involvement in Watershed Restoration" as the November 2004 conference theme.

The steering committee structured the 2004 conference broadcast to include video segments highlighting successful engagement strategies in three different northwest communities. The three groups highlighted in video watershed restoration activities were: (1) the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative in Boundary County, Idaho, (2) the South Coast Coordinating Watershed Council of Curry County, Oregon, and (3) the Walla Walla River Basin Watershed Council/Cross State Boundary Walla Walla County Planning Unit Area 32 in Washington and Oregon. The video interviews with council members and community partners highlighted different strategies employed by each group to sustain community involvement and increase understanding of the natural resource issues facing those communities.

As with the 2002 and 2003 satellite conferences, a live panel of experts representing the three case-studied groups discussed motivating local citizens to become involved in their groups and in watershed restoration. The panelists also fielded questions from the audience at the downlinked sites. As in 2002 and 2003, an evaluation was conducted to measure the success of the 2004 program.

Conference Production

The conference steering committee determined which case studies were to be presented at each conference. The Information Department Video Specialists in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resources Sciences at Washington State University then accompanied the chair of the steering committee on location to the selected watersheds, and videotaped interviews with key people and accompanying footage representing selected accomplishments in the identified geographic areas. After viewing time-coded copies of the video segments, the steering committee selected the interview portions and footage to be used and then wrote a draft narrative for the final pre-produced video case studies for the broadcast.

The steering committee then worked closely with WSU's Information Department to align the interview transcripts, video segments, connecting narrative, live panels, and the host/moderator's introductory comments for the broadcast, the videos, and each panel discussion into an effective education package for each annual regional conference. The Information Department provided the narration for the video segments and hosted/moderated each live event.


The regional steering committee developed an advertising/publicity plan for the watershed issues satellite conferences. The plan consisted of contacting county Extension offices, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Tribal, local and state agencies, as well as a wide range of watershed related groups within the region with e-mail advertising and through direct telephone contacts. WSU Extension Water Team's Web site <http://wawater.wsu.edu/> supported the conferences by posting viewing sites, contact numbers, supplemental materials, and evaluation forms.

The region's newsletter, PNWWATER UPDATE, was also used to provide publicity for these conference events. PNWWATER UPDATE is a single-topic newsletter issued twice a month in both printed and Web-based formats (Mahler, Simmons, Sorensen, Cochrane, & Andrews, 2006). The printed format is mailed to over 400 key stakeholders in the region, including legislators, county Extension offices, agency personnel, educators, county officials, and commodity group officers. The Web-based versions of the newsletters are posted on the regional Web site <http://www.pnwwaterweb.com>.

A specific PNWWATER UPDATE was issued to publicize the 2004 conference (Seago, Simmons, Mahler, Sorensen, & Andrews, 2004c). In addition, PNWWATER UPDATES were used to summarize the 2002, 2003, and 2004 conferences, to build momentum and provide publicity for following conferences (Seago, Simmons, Mahler, Sorensen, & Miner, 2002, 2004a; Seago, Simmons, Mahler, Sorensen, & Andrews, 2004b).


Total attendance at each of the satellite-downlinked conferences was determined by counting the number of attendees by local facilitators at each of the downlinked sites in 2002, 2003, and 2004 (Table 1).

In 2002, attendance exceeded 300 individuals at 38 registered downlinked sites in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington (Table 1). All 38 sites were in Extension county, district, or borough (Alaska) offices. The number of attendees exceeded 500 people for the 2003 conference program at 50 facilitated sites. The majority of 2003 facilitated sites were at Extension educational facilities; however, the USDA-NRCS and various local and federal agencies also served as site hosts. Attendance again increased to over 600 in 2004 at 38 facilitated sites (Table 1).

Table 1.
The Number of Down-Linked Sites and Estimated Site Attendance of the Pacific Northwest Regional Watershed Issues Conferences held in 2002, 2003, and 2004

Broadcast YearDown-Linked SitesAttendance*
* Number does not include estimated numbers from video stream Web site. See Attendance section above.

The growth in live attendance from 300+ in 2002 to 600+ in 2004 only tells part of the story, however. In 2002 satellite downlink technology was the only viable way to view this conference, as video streaming was not good enough to have a smooth viewing experience on a personal computer. However, by 2004 several sites and people at their personal computers were using video streaming to view this conference. Unfortunately, we were unable to quantify these numbers exactly. However, a tracking device used on Web "hits" at WSU showed a marked increase of visits to the video stream Web address <http://caheinfo.wsu.edu/video/stream.html> at a time concurring with the live broadcasts. Interpretation of the tracking device data suggests that an additional 100 individuals used video streaming in 2003 and up to 400 people used this technology to view the 2004 conference. Consequently, it is likely that the live attendance numbers were 300+ in 2002; 600+ in 2003 (500+ satellite, 100 video stream); and 1,000+ in 2004 (600+ satellite, 400 video stream).

The fact that attendance continued to increase over time is a good indication that people involved in watershed planning in the Pacific Northwest regarded the conferences as an important part of their continuing education. Far more people than the 1,900 detailed above have seen parts of these conferences when one considers additional potential viewers of Web-archived materials, specific video segments used by educators and agencies in trainings, and DVD copies of these programs, which continue to be distributed largely to watershed groups in the region.


The ultimate success of the 2002, 2003, and 2004 regional watershed issues conferences can be evaluated the following three ways: (1) using a traditional evaluation technique--having attendees fill out a form, (2) measuring conference attendance at each event and over time, and (3) awards received from peers.

Over three-quarters of all attendees completed evaluation forms for each of the downlinked conferences (Table 2). Attendees were asked to evaluate the quality and content of each conference and the perceived value of the supplemental materials on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (outstanding). The average evaluation score ranged from 4.0 - 5.0 for each of the three conferences.

Table 2.
Evaluation Statistics for the Three Watershed Issues Satellite Conferences held in the Pacific Northwest in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Broadcast YearEvaluations CompletedEvaluation Average
 PercentOut of 5

Again, in 2002 over 75% of attendees at downlinked sites completed evaluation forms. The average overall evaluation score was 4.6. At this time, over 95% of participants indicated they would attend another watershed issues satellite conference. In 2002, 98% of attendees rated the conference from very good (4) to excellent (5). In addition, the video case studies were rated from good to excellent by 97% of the 2002 attendees. The three program elements most often cited as being top-notch about the 2002 broadcast were: (1) problem solving methods, (2) commonality of regional issues, and (3) the interactive question and answer segment with panelists.

Over 96% and 84% of conference participants completed evaluation forms in 2003 and 2004, respectively (Table 2). The vast majority of these attendees rated the conferences as very good to excellent. As with the 2002 conference, attendees rated the video case study segments very highly.

The written evaluations from each conference consisted of both objective and open-ended questions. Over 50% of the respondents took the time to provide answers to the open-ended questions. In addition to the overall positive comments, participants were not shy about providing suggestions for improvement. Many of these suggestions were acted upon in the preparation of subsequent conferences.

The second evaluation strategy was to look at attendance over the 3-year period. As highlighted previously, attendance increased from 300 in 2002 to over 1,000 in 2004. This over-threefold increase in attendance is likely related to both the need for and the quality of these broadcasts. Watershed group members voted positively based on their increasing attendance numbers.

Peer evaluation is the third method by which we can evaluate these regional conferences. The 2004 watershed issues satellite conference received the 2005 Shirley Davis Award for Excellence in Teleconferencing. The National University Telecommunications Network (NUTN) presented this award to the Information Department of Washington State University at their annual national conference in June 2005. The Shirley Davis award recognizes a member educational institution that produces an outstanding teleconference, judged by content, technical, and administrative issues.

The Pacific Northwest Regional Water Quality team will also evaluate the broadcasts via a fourth method to determine what the satellite conference participants did with the information provided. This outcome evaluation is ongoing and will not be completed for 2 more years.


The Anthology of Watershed Issues Satellite 2002 - 2004 Conferences has been packaged into a DVD format and made available to the public by the Information Department at Washington State University. The anthology is the complete package of all three regional satellite conferences and contains video segments, live panel discussions, and questions and answers fielded during the actual broadcast. This anthology is available on-line at <http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/EXTAFF.NSF/Videos/Water+Quality>.


The Pacific Northwest Water Quality Team was able to develop successful water quality programming on a regional basis effectively using broadcast technology coupled with local facilitation. The five land-grant institutions in the region (Northwest Indian College, Oregon State University, University of Alaska, University of Idaho, Washington State University) were able to successfully develop a steering committee and work together to achieve successful regional water quality programming. In addition to being able to work well together, the team successfully partnered with EPA Region 10, which programs on a regional basis in the same four Pacific Northwest states. Strong partnerships forged with state, local, and tribal governments and environmental agencies through their inclusion on steering committees continue to inform regional educational programming. The development of successful case studies to highlight and grass roots (steering committee and program participant) selection of conference topics forged an outstanding partnership with local watershed groups.

The strong partnership between the land-grant institutions in the Pacific Northwest and EPA region 10 was key in developing and delivering these watershed-based educational programs. The land-grant institutions first established a permanent liaison to EPA in the Region 10 office in Seattle in 1989. This continuous presence at EPA has allowed both organizations to complement each other's strengths and effectively partner to address regional water resource needs.

Regional water quality programming accomplished something that would not have been possible on a state-by-state basis. Based on the human resources available for water quality programming at land-grant institutions, it is unlikely that the University of Alaska and University of Idaho would have been able to develop and deliver statewide watershed issues conferences. In addition, Northwest Indian College does not have the capacity needed to deliver watershed issues programming to the many tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State University (Washington) and Oregon State University (Oregon) likely have the human capacity to deliver a state-wide conference on a one-time basis, but are not in the position to make this an annual event.

In 2002, the state-of-the-art technology was satellite-downlinked conferences. Today, conference production would be similar, but the product would more likely be delivered by video streaming to educational sites and/or to personal computers. A central fixed-site traditional conference would not be able to draw the targeted audience in as large of numbers as the downlinked conferences. Basing this observation/supposition on attendance for traditional regional water quality conferences, which have averaged 225 people per regional conference over the last 6 years. Another consideration is the limited budgets of watershed councils that make attending traditional conferences cost prohibitive. The satellite/video stream conferences are free to the public. Consequently, the conference delivery method brought in crowds to be educated about watershed issues in greater numbers than any other format that has been tried in the Pacific Northwest.

Streaming video is the current state-of-the-art technology to receive educational broadcasts by consumers with high speed Internet connections. Some would argue that Web conferencing is equal to or better than the technology used to deliver our educational programs. It is highly likely that in the not-too-distant future several other competing technologies will be used to deliver regional programs to multiple sites more effectively than existing systems.

The high quality of the watershed issues regional conferences in 2002, 2003, and 2004 has been affirmed by increasing attendance, high evaluation scores by attendees, partnerships that have held together and strengthened, and a national award from educational peers. The success of the regional watershed issues conferences suggests that in the future we must pay less attention to state boundaries and concentrate on regional audiences to make a significant difference in the effective management of natural resources.


Mahler, R. L., Simmons, R., Sorensen, F., Cochrane, M., & Andrews, G. G. (2006). Using updates to educate the public about water issues. Journal of Extension 44(5) [On line], Article 5IAW5, Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2006october/iw5.shtml

Seago, J., Simmons, R., Mahler, R. L., Sorensen, F. & Miner, J. R. (2002). Living on the edge: Grassroots watershed planning in the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from: http://www.pnwwaterweb.com/WQFlyers_PNW007.pdf

Seago, J., Simmons, R., Mahler, R. L., Sorensen, F. & Miner, J. R. (2004a). Funding watershed restoration projects in the Pacific Northwest. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from: http://www.pnwwaterweb.com/WQFlyers_PNW031.pdf

Seago, J., Simmons, R., Mahler, R. L., Sorensen, F. & Andrews, G. G. (2004b). Conference announcement: Improving community involvement in watershed restoration. Retrieved June 11, 2008 from:http://www.pnwwaterweb.com/WQFlyers_PNW045.pdf

Seago, J., Simmons, R., Mahler, R. L., Sorensen, F. & Andrews, G. G. (2004c). Improving community involvement in watershed restoration. http://www.pnwwaterweb.com/WQFlyers_PNW050.pdf