• Project Clean Water
  • Project Clean Water

Taking Action for Sparkling Oceans

Think of San Diego, California, and you think of sunny beaches, sail boats, fishing and surfing. A bold new communications campaign is aimed at keeping the water at those local beaches sparkling and inviting—for residents and tourists.

“Only about 26% of San Diego County residents were aware that stormwater isn’t treated,” says Ann Berchtold, MIG’s San Diego Director of Marketing and Communications. And water runoff has a big effect on coastal waters. (Runoff occurs when it rains and also when we overwater gardens, wash cars and power-wash sidewalks, for example.)

And that’s a problem. Because the water that flows down our streets into stormdrains picks up motor oils, contaminants, bacteria, viruses and other nasty things. But we can do something about that.

San Diego County’s Project Clean Water is increasing the community’s awareness of water quality, stormwater quality and watershed protection, and improving community understanding of how to prevent stormwater pollution—laying a foundation for behavior change that improves stormwater quality.

The multi-year project launched in 2020—during the pandemic—and took those months to research public attitudes, develop target audiences and messages, and develop the first campaign. It’s focused on raising awareness about pollution and on the everyday actions people can take to reduce stormwater pollution:

  • Properly disposal of unwanted bulky items
  • Proper trash and pet waste disposal
  • Prevent irrigation runoff
  • Capture and reuse stormwater

“After identifying key audiences, we developed a list of desired behaviors and the recommended approach to best reach each audience type,” Berchtold says.


  • Homeowners and renters, coastal and inland
  • Parents
  • Teens/young adults
  • Special interest: gardeners, car washing, dog owners, pool owners


  • Landscapers and management companies
  • HOA boards and property management companies 
  • Pool and pond management companies
  • Auto repair/gas stations
  • Restaurant Associations/local restaurants

The campaign began in 2021 and really hit stride in 2022. It was translated into five languages, portraying different ethnicities and genders in all artwork. The campaigns included: earned media and press conferences, a robust media buy, a social media partner sharing program, outreach at community events, a PSA video, and website. 

The 2022 effort featured two different campaigns, aimed at different audiences. 

52 Ways to Love Your Water

Each week, a new small action everyone can take was revealed through social media and a newsletter, with additional context on the Project Clean Water website. It was also promoted through outreach events with swag items. “A typical ‘click rate’ for online news is about 18%,” Berchtold says. “This campaign is at 35%, almost double.”  

Dude! Be Cool. Don’t Dump.

The objectives are to discourage illegal dumping and provide options for convenient collection/disposal. Project Clean Water partnered with I Love a Clean San Diego and its WasteFreeSD.org website to provide a convenient location for how to handle unwanted items.

The results are beginning to move the needle in San Diego County. “Our overall message is that small actions can make a big difference when we all work together as a community,” says Berchtold. “We’ve built coalitions with environmental nonprofits that are now sharing our posts and really expanding the reach of the campaigns.”

And the results show it. In 2021, the campaign received 26.5 million impressions through digital, social, events, media relations and a small media buy. 

In 2022, partners gained 1.23 million impressions, outreach events reached over 311,000, earned media 7.2 million ad advertising/paid social over 16 million. A Youth for Clean Water campaign included a special youth engagement portal with microgrants for innovative student-led high school programs. 

The campaign is continuing in 2023—year three of the five-year campaign—with more emphasis on dumping, trash and pet waste, and adding irrigation runoff, with a robust budget for radio, movies, sponsorships, social media posts, and coalition partner events. 

Winner of the Achievement Award from the National Association of Counties (NACo) in its Civic Education & Public Information category.

If you’d like more information, please contact Ann Berchtold.