City of San Diego's Think Blue Campaign

Karen L. Henry, Deputy Director, and Deborah Castillo, Supervising Public Information Officer, General Services Department, City of San Diego, California; Presenters at 2003 APWA Congress

One of the keys to cleaner ocean waters, bays, beaches and watersheds is public education. That's why the City of San Diego Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program created the "Think Blue" educational campaign. Think Blue seeks to educate residents, business and industry about the causes of stormwater pollution and the pollution prevention behaviors they can adopt to help improve water quality—and our quality of life in San Diego.

Think Blue is a bilingual (English and Spanish) campaign that targets internal and external audiences. The campaign strategy was determined by data gathered in a random-digit telephone survey conducted in July 2001. From this data we were able to understand the existing awareness of San Diego residents as to the causes of urban runoff and their existing behaviors and habits that contribute to the problem. This data helped us identify our key messages for Year One (FY 2002) that will be the foundation of the education campaign over the next few years.

The four main components of the campaign are Employee Training, Regional Media Campaign, Speakers Bureau, and a web page. We are also working with San Diego city schools to include water quality concepts into their science curriculum.

Employee Training
From October 2001 through June 2002, we trained all 13,000 City employees on general stormwater principals in a 1.5-hour mandatory workshop. Employee awareness and knowledge are tested pre- and post-workshop to measure the effectiveness of the training. The workshop includes a video, "Stormwater and You," "Think Blue Easy Solutions" brochure, "Be a Clean Water Leader" card, an illegal discharge report pad, and various incentive items. This training component won a Savvy Award from the City, County, Communications Association (3CMA) for best employee training video at their 2002 conference.

Regional Media Campaign
In Year One (FY 2002), Think Blue developed and aired a series of three public service announcements (PSAs) that exposed basic facts and messages about beach pollution, its causes, and how the storm drain system operates to San Diegoans. The imagery and messages in the PSAs captured the attention and concern of residents across the region, and won two Telly Awards in May 2002 and four local EMMY Awards in June 2002. The PSAs were aired on television and radio for both English and Spanish speaking audiences. The total cost for producing the PSAs package was $175,000.

The media campaign aired from November 16, 2001 through June 30, 2002. The City purchased $253,615 in airtime on 32 local broadcast entities. The Think Blue commercials purchased by the campaign aired more than 2,050 times. Additionally, each of the broadcast partners contributed in-kind airtime in the form of news stories, on-air interviews, additional free airings of PSAs, web pages, newsletter articles, traffic and weather sponsorship promos, sponsorship of street fairs and community events which featured Think Blue informational booths, concert program advertisements, and bumper-sticker backings.

Local broadcast entities contributed 774 additional airings of the PSAs, 40 news story features and other promos for an in-kind value in excess of $160,286. These contributions resulted in a 63 percent advertising dollar match by local broadcast entities. The contribution and support from the local broadcast companies was unprecedented. Their shared passion for this issue and belief that they can play a role in the efforts to clean up San Diego's beaches and bays was and continues to be remarkable.

Because the electronic media campaign was so visible, the issue of stormwater pollution and the Think Blue campaign received unanticipated coverage in local newspapers, magazines and trade publications. More than 20 articles were published locally.

Speakers Bureau
The program is working in partnership with various industry and business associations to create tailored stormwater presentations for their members. Speakers Bureau representatives attend numerous community group and service organization meetings and other public forums across the jurisdiction to share information about this issue. In Year One staff gave more than 77 Stormwater Presentations, and attended 40 community events.

Regional Web Page
The web page is online to provide interested parties access to literature, fact sheets with Best Management Practices, the City's Jurisdictional Urban Runoff Management Plan (JURMP), City Municipal Code, press releases, program developments, educational videos and the PSAs. The site will continue to develop as the City moves forward with implementation of the JURMP. In the period from its September 2001 launch to July 2002, the site had more than 190,000 visitors.

The results of FY 2002 Year One efforts have been tremendous. The PSAs have received critical and national acclaim, and stormwater pollution as a quality of life issue has resonated with local residents and the media. The Think Blue campaign is being looked upon as a model stormwater education and outreach program at the national level. But more importantly, San Diego residents are paying attention to the message and beginning to change their behaviors to benefit our beaches, bays and recreational waters.

Karen Henry and Deborah Castillo will present an educational session at the 2003 APWA Congress entitled, "Think Blue San Diego!" The session is on Tuesday, August 26, from 1:00-1:50 p.m. To reach Karen Henry, call (619) 525-8647 or send e-mail to To reach Deborah Castillo or to request a copy of the Year One report, "Think Blue — Year One in Review," call (619) 525-8649 or send e-mail to