Summer 2019 eNewsletter

CIGLR Spotlight

What Determines Public Support for Water Quality Regulations to Mitigate Agricultural Runoff?

Excess nutrients threaten the health of the Great Lakes and the communities that surround them. For many freshwater systems exhibiting symptoms of excess nutrients, such as algal blooms, mitigating runoff from agricultural areas is necessary to improve water quality. However, developing socially-acceptable policies to better manage nutrients on the land has been a challenge and has slowed progress toward healthier lakes. A policy debate is currently unfolding in Ohio, focused on whether the state government should impose nutrient reduction regulations on agricultural producers in an attempt to curb harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.

Dr. Tian Guo, a CIGLR postdoctoral fellow and social scientist, conducted a survey to gauge Ohio residents’ acceptance of proposed regulatory policies that would introduce fines on excessive agricultural runoff. She wanted to understand the psychological determinants for support of such regulation. She collected a sample of 1000 respondents, who were representative of Ohio residents by age, gender, race, and education level.

Her study found that support of agricultural fines were contingent on the effectiveness of voluntary programs such as incentives, education, and technical assistance programs.

“About 56% of the respondents indicated that they would be in support of the state government introducing fines for excessive agricultural runoff, but only if voluntary programs were not effective,” says Dr. Guo.

Individuals with a prior belief that regulations are necessary to keep farmers accountable for their land management practices were most likely to accept a fine-based regulatory policy, while those stating they trusted farmers to manage their land appropriately were least likely to support regulation. The results from this study offer insights on how to engage and communicate with the public to influence the acceptance of agricultural nutrient regulation policies. The study was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy.

Related Resources

Guo, T., D. Gill, T.H. Johengen, B.J. Cardinale. 2019. What Determines the Public’s Support for Water Quality Regulations to Mitigate Agricultural Runoff? Environmental Science and Policy. (DOI:10.1016/j.envsci.2019.09.008).