How to Make Public Comments & Advocate for Clean Water

Are you ready to advocate for your community? Your region? Your planet? Share your passion with decision-makers using this “how-to” on crafting and delivering written and oral comments. Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay (who’s given her fair share of public testimony on local environmental issues) shares tips on how to make public comments and advocate for clean water.

Have you ever wanted to make a real impact on an issue you care about? Maybe you want to discuss getting safer bike lanes, smaller trash bins, or clean water for your community.

One great way to connect with policymakers and officials is by submitting public comments. Heal the Bay regularly submits written and oral comments and over the years, we have seen the direct positive impacts of our advocacy on decision making organizations like the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, LA City Council, CA Coastal Commission, CA Fish & Game Commission, LA County Board of Supervisors, and many more.

Here is Heal the Bay’s Step-by-Step guide on how you can write up and deliver your public comments to advocate for the change you want to see in the world. You have valuable experiences and information to provide to decision-makers and you have everything it takes to become a powerful advocate for the changes you want to see in your community. Let’s get started.

Annelisa Moe, Water Quality Scientist at Heal the Bay and advocate for water quality regulation, shares her thoughts at MS4 Permit hearing last summer. Before joining Heal the Bay, Moe worked with the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Step I: Identify Your Influencer

The first step toward constructing the perfect public comment is identifying the right decision-maker to engage. This could include influencers from a wide variety of public offices, from Neighborhood Council Members to Senators. These decision-makers want to hear from the public, especially from constituents like you, and oftentimes this input informs their initiatives.

Step II: Gather Information

Every decision-maker (State Board, Committee, Senator, Council Member, etc.) will have their preferred way for you to sign up to speak or send in written comments, and it can be pretty confusing – even for professionals who give public comments for a living! Once you identify who you want to communicate with, look online for the following:

  1. A meeting agenda for the Council or Committee you are interested in
  2. Detailed information on how to submit written or oral comments
  3. Deadlines on written comments and time limits for oral comments
  4. Contact information for an elected official or decision-making body.
  5. Reach out to Heal the Bay for research help if you get stuck.

Step III: Create Your Comment

Providing Written Comments

Written comments could be a more formal written letter, or something a little less formal like an email or online submission. No matter what the format is, these seven basic elements provide a good place to start:

  1. Address the decision-maker, and introduce yourself
  2. State what you are commenting on and why (provide an agenda # if applicable)
  3. Provide a personal story or anecdote
  4. Add in stats, facts, and figures (if you have them)
  5. End stating your position again and thanking the decision-maker(s) for the opportunity to comment
  6. Ask a peer to proofread your comment and edit for spelling, grammar, consistent spacing, and font type
  7. Emphasize importance by repeating certain phrases, or by adding bold, italics, or underline effects to your text (sparingly)

Keep in mind that you do not have to write a novel. A comment of any length can have an impact, especially if you write in your voice and get creative. It doesn’t matter if there is a small error or something that you missed; the important part is that you are sharing your opinion and your passion with people and organizations who can influence big decisions.

To see a (rather exceptional) example, take a look at this comment letter by a college student (and former Heal the Bay intern) Aminah Grant, sent to the Regional Water Board in 2020 concerning their decision on the regional stormwater permit.

Read Aminah Grant’s Comment Letter

Providing Oral Comments at a Public Meeting 

Perhaps you’d rather show up in person (or virtually, as is common these days) to a meeting and speak directly to the decision-makers. A little bit of prep work can help here, too.

The public comment period at most meetings is usually time-limited, and that time can range anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. To make sure you do not run out of time, or leave out some important information, we recommend writing out your comments to reference while you speak.

Write out a full script and read your comment word for word or use bullet points to guide your comments more naturally. In either case, your oral comment should include the same seven basic elements as a written comment (review in the written comments section above).

Be sure to practice saying your comment aloud with a timer to get comfortable and ensure you are under the time limit. It can be helpful to do this with a friend who is willing to listen and provide feedback. Try to make sure you are familiar with the platform on which the meeting will be hosted (e.g. Zoom, WebEx), how to give public comments at your specific meeting, and if and when you might need to register for that meeting. When it comes time to give your comment at the meeting, remember to be clear and concise, take your time and breathe, annunciate, and speak more slowly than you think you need to (we all tend to speed up when we are nervous).

To hear a (rather exceptional) example, listen to this comment by a high school student (and former Club Heal the Bay member) Bella Wash at a Regional Water Board meeting, concerning their decision on the regional stormwater permit.

Step IV: Submit Your Comment

When you use your voice to advocate for change our policymakers listen, and you don’t have to do it alone. You can inspire others in your community to use their voices and public comments to improve the world around you and as always Heal the Bay is here to help empower you! Contact Heal the Bay when you need help and jumpstart your journey as an advocate today.