Here is my final paper for Strategic Communication Applications. It has not been graded yet. As you’ll see, I refer to myself in the third person in this paper. That is because I decided to write it as if was an impartial observer. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
PBRL 5380: Strategic Communication Applications
16 October 2020
This analysis will examine how public relations campaigns have encouraged the installation of rainscaping and rain gardens in St. Louis County and what were the results when citizens attempted to enact what the campaigns recommended. Rainscaping is a landscaping technique that utilizes green infrastructure including directing excess stormwater runoff into planted bioretention areas, known as rain gardens (Buranen). Some residents of St. Louis County have received cooperation from the county while installing their rainscaping features, while we know of one St. Louis County couple, Tom Winkelmann and Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann, who experienced persecution and harassment from St. Louis County for using the same recommended techniques.
Organization’s history and background
Deer Creek Watershed is an area of St. Louis County that is a sub-watershed of the River Des Peres Watershed. The River Des Peres Watershed is large and complex with portions in both St. Louis City and St. Louis County (EcoWorks Unlimited 6). In 2008, citizens who lived in the Deer Creek Watershed approached Missouri Botanical Garden to explore ways of mitigating destructive water runoff activity in their locality. Missouri Botanical Garden formed an alliance for the purpose of exploring plant-based solutions to stormwater runoff problems with these citizens, along with “Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Washington University, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, American Society of Civil Engineers, Great Rivers Greenway, Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Stream Teams, River des Peres Watershed Coalition, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis County, local garden clubs” and 21 local municipalities (EcoWorks Unlimited 6, 9).
St. Louis County entered into an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency from 2003-2013 (Sutin) to reduce storm water runoff and pollution, problems that rainscaping helps to fight. Combined sewer overflows, sanitary and stormwater, have been plaguing the St. Louis metro area for years, causing damage and pollution in the area and downstream. As a result the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District is required by the EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment to fix the problem in 23 years. The clock started in 2011 (Buranen).
St. Louis County and the Metropolitan Sewer District, hereafter known in this document as STLCO and MSD, have constituencies that overlap. Besides being fellow members of the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, aka DCWA, these two organizations are logical allies in the fight against stormwater pollution and flooding.
Demonstration projects along with testing and water quality monitoring were performed by alliance members in parts of the affected watershed in order to successfully prove the effectiveness of rainscaping techniques (EcoWorks Unlimited 23-25, Winkelmann “Aquatic Macro Invertebrates…”, Buranen). Since the majority of land within the target watershed is privately owned, it was necessary to enroll citizens in the alliance’s goals and projects (EcoWorks Unlimited 19, 22).
Organization’s Mission, Vision and Brand
In its own words, the mission of DCWA is “facilitating a community-wide effort for over 10 years to protect and improve water quality through plant-based solutions” (The Deer Creek Alliance).
After its inception, DCWA recommended the following public relations efforts to enlist citizen involvement (EcoWorks Unlimited 22).
- Rainscaping demonstration projects in schools.
- Workshops for area professionals.
- Annual public engagement projects led by citizens.
- Building a contact list of citizens in the watershed through tables at festivals, networking, presentations utilizing PowerPoint, and media campaigns.
- Cultivating the contact list with email newsletters, the web site, and public meetings.
- Helping cities communicate about pilot projects, incentives and barrier removal mechanisms.
In 2014, when the Deer Creek Watershed Management Plan Summary was finalized, St. Louis County resident Carolyn Hasenfratz, now known as Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann, was single and living within the Deer Creek Watershed in a condominium in Brentwood. Already an avid gardener, she obtained a permit to garden around her condo unit right after her 2004 move in. Keenly interested in sustainable and eco-friendly gardening, she constantly updated her knowledge and practices with every bit of information she could glean from “green” gatherings and gardening resources. A frequent attendee at events such as Earth Day and the Sustainable Living Expo, she was aware of Project Clear, Operation Clean Stream and other alliance member activities through some of the table promotions mentioned by the DCWA(Winkelmann “Photo of Patches”). Observing water runoff problems around her condo unit, Winkelmann experimented with, to the extent allowed by the condo association guidelines, small scale stormwater control techniques (Winkelmann “Garden Maintenance in…”).
In 2016, Winkelmann successfully completed training and was certified in the St. Louis Master Gardener program, a membership she has retained until the present time (Winkelmann “Mass Communication Final…”). Master Gardener activities include yearly minimum time commitments for volunteer work and continuing education, and consequently brought Winkelmann into closer involvement with Project Clear and the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, as she personally participated in several of their outreach efforts and projects.
Missouri Stream Teams – Winkelmann became a volunteer at the Litzinger Road Ecology Center immediately after certification as a Master Gardener. LREC is a Missouri Botanical Garden facility and is located right on Deer Creek. Volunteers from Missouri Stream Teams, another DCWA partner organization, conducted a demonstration of surveying macro-invertebrates which is one of their methods of testing the effectiveness of rainscaping techniques (Winkelmann “Aquatic Macro Invertebrates…”). She has volunteered for several years in Operation Clean Stream events, an ongoing cleanup effort of trash along area waterways (Winkelmann “Operation Clean Stream…”).
Workshops for area professionals – Winkelmann attended a session on green controls for stormwater runoff at Missouri Botanical Garden to learn more about rainscaping (Winkelmann “Photo of Handouts”).
Presentations utilizing PowerPoint – After attending a presentation on Project Clear by an MSD representative, Winkelmann wrote an article for her employer’s newsletter to help disseminate the information to customers (Winkelmann “MSD’s Project Clear…”). MSD has been promoting a long-term campaign called Project Clear, the “planning, design and construction of MSD’s initiative to improve water quality and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region” (Winkelmann “MSD’s Project Clear…”). Project Clear utilizes a three-part classification system to organize projects. The category “Get the Rain Out” is the portion that addresses remedies in which individual citizens and property owners can engage (MSD Project Clear “MSD Project Clear Initiative”). The premise of “Get the Rain Out” is that if we reduce the amount of rainwater that goes into the stormwater management systems at peak times, disasters can be averted and the water quality for our region and those downstream from us will improve. The aforementioned practice of rainscaping is one of the two main initiatives in the “Get the Rain Out” category (MSD Project Clear “Rainscaping”). A prominent incentive touted for rainscaping is monetary grants to property owners who install rainscaping features. (MSD Project Clear “MSD Project Clear Initiative”).
Carolyn Hasenfratz married Tom Winkelmann in 2018 and moved into the husband’s home in Affton. The couple started installing rainscaping features shortly after becoming engaged since the property had severe existing drainage problems. According to Winkelmann’s blog, the next-door neighbor made false claims to St. Louis County about the effect of the Winkelmann’s rainscaping on her property, resulting in a year of entanglements with the St. Louis County Department of Public Works. The husband, who is the registered property owner, was forced to appear in court under pain of arrest (Winkelmann “Drainage Problems Are…”). After the charges were dismissed in court in July 2019, Winkelmann’s blog reports that harassment of the couple by the St. Louis County Department of Public works resumed in January 2020 and persisted until the end of April 2020 when the couple contacted the County Executive’s office and provided video documentation of the alleged harassment (Winkelmann “St. Louis County…”). The current position of the St. Louis County Department of Public Works is that the rainscaping employed by the Winkelmanns is acceptable and no explanation was offered to explain their previous opposition.
Since St. Louis County is a member of the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance, to have part of the organization undermining the alliance’s goals is confusing and could discourage other St. Louis County residents from adopting rainscaping techniques. The attitude of the St. Louis County Department of Public Works shown to this couple indicates that at least some of the inspectors and supervisor of inspectors are or were either uninformed about rainscaping, hostile to it, or both. Here is a quote from the supervisor of inspectors to Mrs. Winkelmann that seems to indicate skepticism about rainscaping as a concept, and mockery toward the homeowners for employing it. “Should a complaint come in about a public nuisance created by the ditches you’ve dug in your husband’s yard we will be required by law to re-issue the NOV and seek compliance. If you want to create a “rain garden” at some time in the future, and the necessary changes involved with that process are in violation of County ordinances, you will need to seek a special use permit or a zoning variance” (Winkelmann “Drainage Problems Are”). It’s less than precise to judge attitudes solely from written communication, but this supervisor refused to speak to the Winkelmanns on the phone or to visit the site in person despite repeated invitations, so this kind of communication is all the evidence of the department’s attitudes available.
Who is involved or affected? How are they involved or affected and why is this a concern to the organization and its publics?
Events in recent history have made it clear that flooding in St. Louis County is still a serious problem. For example, the River Des Peres flooded in 2019 and 2020, causing pollution and property destruction in South St. Louis (Hignett, Lincoln, Wicentowski). A South St. Louis resident estimated the amount of water in his neighborhood to be equivalent to the historic flood of 1993. 2019 and 2020 are eight and nine years into the 23-year agreement between MSD, the EPA, and Missouri Coalition for the Environment. The 1993 and 2019 flood events that the resident compared are very different in scale in terms of the effects on the entire metro area, so this one event may not mean that MSD is losing the battle and is going to miss their deadline. However, these recent floods could be regarded as evidence that there is still a lot of work to be done.
If the St. Louis County Department of Public Works is going to persecute people who try to be part of the solution, they will discourage property owners from adopting rainscaping techniques and we will all pay the price in higher sewer bills, flood destruction and deteriorated water quality. All subscribers to MSD are affected because of the cost, and every person who lives downstream from the St. Louis metro area is affected by decreased water quality – all the way to the Gulf of Mexico where there is a dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi that varies in size every year (“Mississippi River…”). This has implications for the health of drinking water downstream, the health of fishing in the Gulf, property loss, decreased tourism, land erosion and possibly other destructive effects (“Mississippi River…”).
Mrs. Winkelmann personally spent over 43.6 hours of labor defending the rainscaping she and her husband installed, representing an economic loss because she is partially self-employed and that is time that she could have spent earning money instead (Winkelmann “St. Louis County…”). The couple spent approximately $300 on security cameras to obtain evidence to stop the harassment, and since they don’t live in in the area that offers rebates to homeowners who install rainscaping, all of the property upgrades have been performed at their own personal expense (Winkelmann “St. Louis County…”).
MSD and the other members of the DCWA have invested huge amounts of money and labor into trying to convince the public to install rainscaping features on their own property (Buranen). MSD subscribers have partially paid for this advocacy with their sewer bills and will be paying for many more years. Many people do not have the resources, time, or the interest to fight St. Louis County and could be intimidated out of acting in an environmentally responsible way just because it’s easier and cheaper and keeps them out of court, not because they are indifferent the environment and our fellow Americans downriver.
Anyone who contributes resources to the following partial list of organizations, either voluntarily or through taxation, is potentially having some of their money that was spent on sponsoring the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance wasted: Great Rivers Greenway, Missouri Department of Conservation, US EPA Region 7, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Botanical Garden, Washington University, East-West Gateway Council of Governments, American Society of Civil Engineers, Missouri Stream Teams, River des Peres Watershed Coalition, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis County, allied local garden clubs and the 21 affected local municipalities (The Deer Creek Alliance, EcoWorks Unlimited 6, 9). Most of the money for the cost-share grants is derived from private property taxes (Chen).
Continued Advocacy and Outreach by Alliance Members
DCWA members continue to work on the organization’s goals of mitigating pollution, habitat loss and flood damage with the help of plants. The Alliance “Take Action” web page calls for the following activities (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Take Action”):
The Rainscaping Cost-Share Program – funded by the “Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation, and US EPA Region 7 through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (subgrant number G19-NPS-11), under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act”, the cost-share program continues with large and small cost-share grants available, to help out individual homeowners, businesses and institutions (MSD Project Clear “Rainscaping”).
Education – online resources to teach property owners how to rainscape (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Rainscaping”, “Rain Gardens”).
Water pollution prevention tips (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Reduce Water Pollution”, Winkelmann “Online photo album…”).
Guidelines on conducting a citizen led creek cleanup (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Lead a Creek Cleanup”).
News of volunteer activities and opportunities from the Green Keepers, Great Rivers Missouri Master Naturalists, Missouri Stream Teams, Open Space Council and St. Louis Master Gardeners (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Webster Groves Green Keepers”). Some of the organizations listed here are official alliance members while others are assumed by this analyst to be allies as their goals and projects often overlap.
Invasive Honeysuckle removal (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Root Docking Invasive Honeysuckle”, Winkelmann “Tips for Removing…”).
News about continuing education opportunities (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Learning Opportunities”).
Project Clear outreach and educational exhibits in an annex at the new St. Louis Aquarium (Winkelmann “Online photo album…”). In this area visitors can get brochures about Project Clear, play interactive games, use an interactive and educational kiosk, view a demonstration rain garden and engage in other activities that educate about water quality and water conservation.
One result that is easy to see is that The Deer Creek Watershed Alliance did an excellent job getting the word out about the cost-share grants for rainscaping. This analyst found news articles about the availability of the grants from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Giegerich, Schuessler), Kirkwood, MO Patch (Greenbaum), St. Louis Public Radio (Chen) and the St. Louis American (“MSD accepting applications…”).
Have property owners been taking advantage of the grants? “In the model [first] round, there were only eight applications. The second [following year] round had sixty-six applications” reported an official in 2018 (Buranen). Two of Project Clear’s pilot rainscaping projects, Old North and Cortex, have been well-received by the public and the educational signage has been observed to attract attention and interest (Buranen). Interest in rain gardens has increased throughout the area even by those, like the Winkelmanns, who are not located in the grant award area (Buranen). For example, an alternate funding source provided the large rain gardens on the Webster University campus in Webster Groves (Buranen). The Deer Creek Watershed Alliance published an infographic in 2018, claiming credit for 364 rainscaping project installations among many other educational and environmental achievements during its first 10 years (Deer Creek Watershed Alliance “Achievements”).
Since neither the St. Louis County Department of Public Works or the County Executive’s office would provide an explanation to the Winkelmanns about the initial resistance to their rainscaping (Winkelmann “St. Louis County…”), this analyst can only speculate about what the problem might have been. In a search for negative reactions in the St. Louis area to the idea of rainscaping, excepting the reports in the Winkelmann blog, only one example was found by this analyst. Here are a couple of selections from a letter to the editor, published by the St Louis Post-Dispatch in 2013 (Niehaus).
“New gardens may rain dollars” (Jan. 6) reports that homeowners in 14 communities may receive up to $2,000 if they “rainscape” their yards to retain run-off into the Deer Creek watershed.”
Mr. Niehaus put the word “rainscape” in quotes in a mocking way, similar to John L. Geiler, Assistant Chief Residential Inspector of St. Louis County Public Works, who mocked the Winkelmanns “rain garden” in his email without having first accepted an invitation to come to look at it (Winkelmann “Drainage Problems Are…”).
“Funny, I don’t recall voting on a measure that would pass along thousands of dollars to needy homeowners in Ladue, Clayton, Creve Coeur, Frontenac, Kirkwood, Warson Woods, etc.”
From that sentence and the rest of the published letter, it is apparent that there is a lot of information that this citizen did not know. For example, rain gardens put in along Deer Creek reduce flooding and pollution in places like South St. Louis and everywhere downstream from that, including many communities not as affluent as the places he mentioned. Nevertheless, appearing to divert taxpayer money to the benefit of wealthy citizens is not a good impression to create, and it would be helpful for the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance to continue to also promote the rain garden projects in other less advantaged parts of the metro area to raise their profile. With prevalent citizen apathy to government activities (Broom and Sha 362) and a dearth of reporters to create original news coverage (Grieco), a lot of misinformation that gets out into the public remains uncorrected and unexamined.
It’s more surprising that some St. Louis County government employees, who work for an organization that is a Deer Creek Watershed member, seem to be little better informed six to seven years later (Winkelmann “Drainage Problems Are…”, “St. Louis County…”). We know that there are many barriers to successful communication between citizens and government as well as branches of government with each other (Broom and Sha 356-366). In addition to lack of interest by citizens and a shortage of reporters, the scale of the task is overwhelming and there are bureaucratic layers, mistrust, and actors with varying agendas to overcome.
Despite all these challenges, the sources I have found in preparing this analysis seem to indicate that the rainscaping movement in the St. Louis area is not dying out, but rather is gaining momentum. Since the Winkelmanns have been left alone by the Department of Public Works since April 2020 (Winkelmann “St. Louis County…”), at least one more of St. Louis County’s internal publics, the Department of Public Works, seems to have been brought further into co-orientation with the other Deer Creek Watershed Alliance members. That is good news, because as evidenced by recent floods, the need for more green infrastructure in our area has not abated.
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—. Photo of Patches. Facebook, 21 June 2017. www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10213641471095335&set=a.4010664309257. Accessed 15 October 2020.
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—. Online photo album with captions. Facebook, 27 September 2020, 10:55 AM, www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10224249615372312&type=3. Accessed 15 October 2020.
—. Photo of Handouts. Facebook,15 October 2020, 6:12 PM, www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10224390520054841&set=a.10223930154825998. Accessed 15 October 2020.