News

Portland State study links outdoor recreation with water quality concerns
Author: John Kirkland, PSU Media and Public Relations
Posted: April 3, 2018

People who camp, hike, fish or participate in other forms of outdoor recreation generally have a higher level of concern about water quality than those who don’t, according to a recent study co-authored by Portland State University professor Melissa Haeffner. 

Haeffner and her colleagues used data from surveys conducted in the Wasatch Front region of Utah, the most populous part of the state stretching from Ogden to Provo. The area’s water quality is impacted by the combined effects of human population and agriculture. It’s also an outdoor recreation hub.

Survey data from the study, which was published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, showed that people who recreate outside are more sharply attuned to water quality than the population at large. The rest of the population generally perceived water quality to be good, but expressed less concern about it than their more outward bound counterparts.

“This makes sense, because people wouldn’t be spending time recreating in water they didn’t think was clean enough. And if it was clean, they’d be more concerned about keeping it that way,” said Haeffner, an assistant professor of environmental science in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The amount of concern over water quality also was linked to education level and socioeconomic status. Higher levels of both tended to correspond with higher levels of outdoor recreation and interest in water quality.

The researchers’ interest in water quality perceptions was linked to a broader desire to understand differences in the level of support for public policies addressing water quality issues in the region. She said the information can be used by water managers in Utah to track shifts in public attitudes toward water quality as the state grapples with rapid climatic and demographic changes in the coming years.