Create a Watershed Fact Sheet
Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
What is a Watershed Fact Sheet?
Watershed Fact Sheets are short (typically one page, double sided), information-packed brochures for a stream basin. They provide information to the public about a watershed including, its human and natural history, threats to its health, organizations working to protect and restore the watershed, and what citizen’s can do to help. In short, a watershed fact sheet is a short synopsis of your watershed and an advertisement for your watershed group.
Why Should I Create a Watershed Fact Sheet?
Creating and distributing Watershed Fact Sheets helps to educate, engage, and empower watershed residents. Citizens that know the name of their local stream are more likely to work to protect it and citizens that are informed about environmental issues are more environmentally active.
If you are a watershed group, another way of looking at Watershed Fact Sheets is to think of them as an advertisement for your group. They let the citizen’s of you watershed know about the treasures of your watershed, the threats facing them, that your organization is there to help, and that your organization can use their support.
Developing Your Goals and Budget
Creating a Watershed Fact Sheets is a relatively inexpensive proposition, however the costs associated with them can vary. Your goals for your fact sheet will in part determine the costs of their creation.
Your goals for creating a fact sheet can be quite broad, or very specific. When developing your goals, think about the audience you are targeting and make sure to develop your work plan accordingly. Some example goals include:
- Raising public awareness about the treasures and threats to their watershed
- Creating an advertisement for your group
- Teaching students the watershed concept and its importance
- Creating a fact sheet for media covering an event that you are having
- Educating local elected officials about watersheds, their local watershed, and the importance of watershed planning
Again, keep in mind your goals and audience in determining your workplan. For example, if your goal is to teach students about the idea of a watershed, you may want to involve them in the creation of your watershed fact sheet. There is no better type of learning than experiential learning!
The cost associated with creating a watershed fact sheet can be as low as the price of printer ink and computer paper, however there are many optional costs depending on the amount of effort you wish to put into the fact sheet’s creation, the expertise and talents of your creation committee, and the media on which you would like to print your fact sheet.
Some example cost include:
- Paper: $4.00-$40.00 per ream depending on the quality of paper
- Printing: Three cents to a dollar a page depending on if you are printing or copying it yourself or having it done professionally and depending on the number of colors used in the fact sheet
- Photos and graphics: Free (your own or royalty-free photos and graphics) to expensive
- Maps: Free to expensive depending on if you are using publicly available maps, making one yourself, or paying a contractor to make one
- Research: Free (your own time and sweat) to expensive (paying a contractor to do the research)
- Postage: Only if you plan on sending your fact sheets out by mail
- Web site hosting: A fact sheet can be integrated into your web site for free if someone in your group has web expertise. If you want to have a professional design and host your fact sheet, it could cost a few hundred dollars.
Grants are available to pay for the creation and distribution of environmental education materials such as a fact sheet. In addition, you may be able to defray costs by asking local businesses to donate paper and/or donate the service of printing the fact sheets.
Steps for Creating a Fact Sheet
Creating a fact sheet is a relatively straightforward process, however you will want to give yourself enough time to complete the process. Below is a list of steps for creating a fact sheet. By far step one, researching the fact sheet, will require the greatest amount of time and effort. This step alone can take several months depending on the resources available to you.
- Researching fact sheet
- Writing, editing, and formatting fact sheet
- Printing fact sheet
- Distributing fact sheet
Creating a Watershed Fact Sheet
Below is a general list of materials you will need if you are planning to research, write, and print your own fact sheet.
- Internet access
- Local or University Library
- Printer and Ink or Toner
Researching your Watershed Fact Sheet
Finding the materials to make a watershed fact sheet is the hardest part, but the good news is that it can be done without costing you or your organizations any money. It will however, take some time to get good, accurate information together. This is not a step to rush through.
Generally a Watershed Fact Sheet includes the following items (however they can be personalized as you and your organization see fit):
- A general definition of a watershed
- A verbal description of the boundaries of your watershed
- A map of your watershed
- A human history of the watershed
- A natural history of the watershed
- Current and future threats to the health of the watershed
- A list of organizations working to protect the watershed (your organization prominently displayed) including contact information
- A list of actions that the reader can take to protect the watershed.
There are several existing definitions for a watershed. The Environmental Protection Agency has this simple definition. Other definitions are available on the internet using “watershed definition” as a search term. Some of the definitions are more technical than others so choose the definition that is right for your audience. In general, information found on government websites is free for the public to use, however you should ask for permission to use the author’s words if you choose a definition from another source.
The cost associated with putting together a watershed map can vary greatly. Going through a contractor may produce a high quality map, but may also be expensive. There are several sources for producing free maps for watersheds in the Potomac Basin. Some of the sources may only be able to produce maps for watersheds that are totally within their jurisdiction (for example, Pennsylvania may only have data for watersheds within its state boundaries). For watersheds that cross-state boundaries, we recommend that you contact one of the multi-jurisdictional agencies such as the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. In addition to the sources below, you should ask your county or city department of planning to see what resources they have available.
Maryland Department of Planning Data Center
Maryland Environmental Resource Land and Information
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Mapping Tools
Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA)
Virginia Geographic Information Network
West Virginia GIS Technical Center
West Virginia Interactive Mapping Center
EPA Regional Watershed Information
EPA Surf Your Watershed
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Data Hub
United States Geological Survey
Watershed Human History
The human history of a watershed provides information about the important historical events that took place in the basin and historic structures found there. The idea behind this section is to show people the important resources that they should want to protect. You can talk to your local historical society and university historians or go to a public or university library to research this information. Your local government may also have a list of historical properties and an area history; you can use this as a starting point for your research for the watershed.
Watershed Natural History
The natural history of a watershed is information about the flora and fauna found in the basin. This can be the number of species that make the watershed their home, the unique and interesting species that are there, and/or any endangered species that are found in your watershed. This information can be found from a variety of sources- local university biologists, county biologists, county agricultural and forest extension agents, local Audubon Society, as well as the local and nearby university libraries. Another great place to start is a local nature center. They will most likely have a list of the plants and wildlife found in the area and be able to point out species that are unique to your area, have interesting life histories, and/or are threatened with extinction.
Threats to the Health of your Watershed
Information regarding watershed threats, steps that have been taken to protect it, and contact information on organizations working to protect and restore the area should be available with your county or city planning or environmental offices, local watershed and environmental organizations, and county and forest extension agents. Additionally, your state and the EPA have information on threats to drinking water and stream and river water quality.
List of watershed organizations and contact information
You probably can compile this list as you research your watershed’s natural history and the threats to its health—the organizations that are knowledgeable in these subjects are also probably the ones working in the watershed. When listing these organizations in your fact sheets, try to avoid information that changes often like names of personnel. Instead, stick with the basic information—the group’s name, its phone number, address, website address, and a general email address (if available). If applicable, highlight your organization here!
List of Actions that the Reader Can Take
There are literally thousands of simple actions that individuals can take to protect their watershed. It is up to you to decide which items to emphasize. In choosing which items to highlight, try to pick activities that fit with your group’s mission. The one item that should be on your list is to urge the reader to volunteer or join your organization! For a list of activities that the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin highlights, check out our Watershed Activities to Encourage Restoration.
Formatting and Printing Your Fact Sheet
Once you’ve finished researching for your fact sheet, begin formatting the document.
Making a fact sheet is more of an art than a science. Try some different formats before settling on one you like. Just like a resume, you want your fact sheet to be different, eye-catching, and easy to read.
Some helpful hints:
- Enliven your fact sheet with graphics—graphics are useful to demonstrate a point visually and to make your fact sheet more interesting
- When possible, print in color—color will allow you to emphasize points, highlight sections and generally bring attention to your fact sheet
- However, design your fact sheet to look good when copied—even if you plan to print your fact sheets in color, consider how they will look in black and white. There may be times when you will need to photocopy your fact sheet so follow these simple rules:
- When possible, use clip art instead of photos—photos do not photocopy well
- When using color graphics, use ones that contrast—if they are too similar they will not show up
- When using graphics or charts, use different patterns rather than different colors—the colors will not show up on a photocopy while the patterns will
How you print your fact sheets will depend on your audience and budget. If your budget allows, bring your fact sheet to a professional to have it printed—this will save you time and aggravation and you will generally get a higher quality product. If this is not possible you can print them all on your printer or you can print a master copy and make photocopies (black and white or color) from it. Printing your fact sheets on your own printer will produce the highest quality fact sheets that you can make yourself, however it is time consuming and it can be more expensive than making black and white photocopies. Making photocopies of a master is the fastest and cheapest method of printing, however it is also produces the lowest quality fact sheet.
Distributing your Watershed Fact Sheet
There are lots of ways to distribute your fact sheet. If you are working with a small watershed or in a specific neighborhood and you have some volunteer time, you may be able to go door to door to deliver them. If you have some money, you can pay for a mailing. Depending on the number, you may be able to do a bulk mailing through businesses like Mailboxes, Etc. Another way of mailing them is by contacting your local water utility. They will sometimes include special mailers with their bills for charity purposes, however, they may have size restrictions for your fact sheet. Remember, it is best to make use of several techniques if possible.
You can also give them out at special events like, citizen or community association meetings, community festivals, conferences, local planning meetings, environmental restoration activities, garden club meetings. Another option is to place your fact sheets at locations where interested individuals can pick them up. You might leave them at bookstores, historic properties, nature centers, schools, recreational centers, libraries, 4-H clubs, and garden centers. Finally, if you have an electronic version, you can send it out by email to people you think would be interested and ask them to distribute it to their friends as well—this is the cheapest option of all for distributing them and printing them!
The most budget-friendly option is electronic distribution. Send the fact sheets in an email to your supporters, post them on Facebook and other Social Media, and put them on your website. Encourage people to share them with others who live in the watershed.