The need for water quality improvement in nutrient surplus watersheds is a pressing issue on the agenda of some government agencies and environmental organizations. Including the water quality perceptions of different affected stakeholder groups in the decision-making process may help in addressing this issue. Unfortunately, there is a lack of published research focusing specifically on understanding how Arkansas stakeholders’ perceptions of water quality issues can be used to build and implement comprehensive and workable water quality management plans. Therefore, the objective of this study was to use a stakeholder-guided collaborative approach to help research and outreach personnel to understand water quality perceptions of key stakeholders and to integrate stakeholder engagement in both the decision-making process and in the implementation of water quality management strategies within the Lincoln Lake Watershed in northwest Arkansas. Two key stakeholder groups (i.e., Locals—residents and agricultural producers—and Outsiders—water quality specialist across the state) were surveyed to assess their perceptions regarding: 1) causes of watershed water quality problems, 2) parties responsible for water quality improvement, 3) effectiveness and affordability of best management practices to reduce water quality degradation, and 4) the stakeholders’ interactions with county, state and federal government. A total of 209 complete surveys (49% response rate) were received. Survey responses were compared to determine if significant differences existed between the two stakeholder groups’ perceptions of water quality performing Fisher’s exact tests. Results from the study showed that water quality is still perceived as an issue in the Lincoln Lake Watershed. Significant differences were found between the two stakeholder groups’ perceptions regarding: 1) different groups’ contributions to water degradation, 2) groups’ responsibilities for cleanup, 3) effectiveness of five best management practices, 4) affordability of four best management practices, and 5) what level of government (i.e., county, state, federal) best represents Locals’ water quality needs and concerns. The lessons learned from this collaborative approach helped identifying Locals’ important knowledge gaps regarding water quality and best management practices effectiveness. Consequently, awareness and education campaigns in conjunction with a stewardship recognition program were conducted to encourage appropriate water conservation strategies within the Lincoln Lake watershed and its adjacent areas.
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