The Ipswich River watershed has experienced increasing urbanization in recent years. The river, which supplies water to over 300,000 residents (twice the watershed’s population), was considered one of the 10 Most Endangered Rivers in the U.S. in 2003 due to seasonal low-flow and no-flow events. Seasonal outdoor water restrictions have curbed residential demand; however, impervious surfaces and municipal sewer systems direct much of the runoff outside the watershed. Low-impact development (LID) practices, specifically those that infiltrate runoff, have the potential to keep more water in the watershed, and increase baseflows in the river. This study seeks to ascertain the barriers and motivations that exist to LID adoption. A paper survey including Likert-scale questions and a photo preference component was sent to 1,000 homeowners in the watershed. Analysis of responses employed factor analysis and means comparisons to compare responses between concerned homeowners (those who belonged to the local watershed association) and randomly-selected homeowners. Income and educational attainment were significant variables in both aesthetic preferences and willingness to adopt LID practices. Perceived cost of landscape changes and concern about disease-carrying pests also surfaced as barriers to residential adoption. The findings emphasize alternate strategies for land use planners, landscape professionals and environmental organizations to promote behavioral changes in the way residential landscapes are managed, and policies municipalities could adopt to implement more widespread use of LID practices. More widespread understanding and appreciation of the multiple benefits of rain LID landscapes could also serve all three groups.
EcoTarium: Magnetic Neighborhood
A team of researchers led by Robert L. Ryan, landscape architecture and regional planning, has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to integrate the science of urban systems into the new City Science exhibit at the EcoTarium museum in Worcester. The project, “From the Lab to the Neighborhood: An Interactive Living Exhibit for Advancing STEM Engagement with Urban Systems in Science Museums,” will develop prototype exhibits that explore the complex interconnections between human and natural systems, using the city as a laboratory for informal learning. The collaboration with exhibit designers and science educators at the EcoTarium, the second largest science museum in Massachusetts with over 130,000 visitors per year, is funded as a pilot grant from the NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning program. “From the Lab to the Neighborhood” builds upon the team’s existing urban ecology research led by Paige Warren, environmental conservation department, which has explored the implications of land use change and urban greening on natural and human systems in metropolitan Boston through a series of urban ecology studies and planning scenarios. This new project at the EcoTarium will integrate these research results into the exhibits and allow museum visitors, including school children, to participate in social science research process, an area that has received less attention in many science museums. Some of the planned exhibits include a Neighborhood Design Area that allows visitors to create their ideal neighborhood, an Urban Biodiversity Area in which visitors compare birds they see on EcoTarium grounds to those in less forested portions of the city and learn about other aspects of biodiversity, and a Land-Use/Land-Cover Change Area where visitors may explore the effects of changes in tree and building cover on people, such as impacts on air quality and the urban heat-island. The exhibits will also engage visitors in applying the scientific process to thinking about urban planning alternatives that promote a more sustainable future, and integrate their perceptions into the project team’s ongoing research about public perceptions of innovative urban planning strategies.
Water withdrawals for human use can reduce water in lakes and streams, with significant consequences for aquatic biota. Urbanization, particularly large lawn areas associated with low-density residential development, increases demand on freshwater resources. Outdoor water use accounts for the largest proportion of residential water use during the summer months, which corresponds to the lowest water levels in freshwater ecosystems. Prior studies have sought to understand property features associated with the highest water use; however, these studies do not consider other types of water use nor do they capture the decisions by residents that result in outdoor water use. Understanding these decisions is critical for developing policies and education tools that reduce outdoor water use by changing people’s water use behavior. Focusing on the Ipswich River Watershed, which has been impacted by extreme low flows due to water withdrawals, a mixed-methods approach was used to understand residents’ outdoor water use and the factors influencing the amount and timing of water use. To quantify water use meters were placed on outdoor spigots at vi residences, participants were provided with a written survey before and after water metering, and in-person interviews were conducted. Irrigation systems used the most water; however, garden watering occurred as frequently as lawn irrigation and many participants indicated that their garden was a primary factor in water use decisions. Participants’ water use decisions fell into categories from habitual (i.e., watering at the same time of day) to purely cognitive (i.e., watering based on weather and plant needs). While many participants felt that water conservation was necessary, their willingness to implement landscape-level conservation practices, such as rain barrels, did not differ from participants who believed water conservation was unnecessary. Interestingly, many residents reduced their outdoor water use behavior and increased their concern for other environmental issues in response to study participation. To have the greatest impact on overall water use, efforts should focus on residents running irrigation systems on a schedule. Outreach should emphasize individualized approaches to water conservation, regardless of water source (public or private), and include information and conservation options specific to the water needs of the individual property.