With surveys showing that the public is largely supportive of efforts to clean up the Chesapeake and its tributaries, but knows too little about the problems facing waterways or what can be done about them, the Bay Program is planning a new tactic.

Next year, it will launch a pilot mass media campaign aimed at taking a Bay message to a larger portion of the watershed’s 15 million residents in an attempt to spur more individual awareness—and action.

“People are generally positively motivated to do some things to help out, but are a little underinformed about the particulars of what they should do and what they can do,” said Bob Campbell, of the National Park Service and chair of the Bay Program’s Communications and Education Subcommittee. “That prompts us to want to give them some of that information.”

The Bay Program recently began soliciting proposals from public groups and private firms for a mass-market media campaign that would be centered in the Washington, D.C. area, allowing it to also reach Northern Virginia and parts of Maryland.

The campaign would be directed at people who are not currently involved with activities related to the Bay. Campbell said the Bay Program is “well-positioned” to provide information to people already interested in the Bay, but needs help in reaching a broader audience.

The campaign stems in part from a survey of 2,000 residents completed for the Bay Program last year. The poll found that 89 percent of those surveyed said they were concerned with pollution in waterways, but that level of concern was not matched with comparable levels of individual stewardship activity.

The survey found that while 87 percent agreed with the statement that an individual’s actions can make a difference, half of those surveyed doubted their own actions had an impact.

“It is important that people recognize the power of one.” Campbell said. “Fifteen million people making poor choices can create some of the issues that we are dealing with. Many millions of people making more positive choices can begin to be transforming.”

As envisioned, the advertising campaign would present an overall message about the Bay along with a specific action individuals could take. It would also provide a toll-free telephone number and a web site where people could get more information.

Tests conducted before and after the campaign would be used to gauge its effectiveness. If the campaign proves successful, Campbell said similar efforts may be tried in other parts of the watershed. Because advertising materials will have already been made for the pilot program, any later campaigns should be less costly, he said.

The total budget for the project is $620,000, with $400,000 coming from the EPA’s Bay Program budget, $200,000 from Virginia, and $20,000 from the District of Columbia. Officials anticipate the campaign will be launched in the spring.

In addition to reaching new audiences, Campbell said the campaign signals other stakeholder groups, such as farmers, wastewater treatment plant operators and others, that the Bay Program is “leaving no stone unturned” in getting everyone to do their share in restoring the Chesapeake.

“Individuals have an impact as well,” Campbell said, “and we need them to be aware of that and hopefully make better choices themselves.”