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Understanding the Factors that Influence Outdoor Residential Water Conservation: A Case Study in Suburban Boston

Principal Investigator/Project Leader: 
Department of Project: 
Environmental Conservation Dept.
Project Description: 

Urbanization has increased demand for water and impaired aquatic ecosystems, threatening water resources worldwide. Climate change and more frequent droughts are expected to exacerbate this situation. Residential landscaping, especially lawns, are a major factor in increasing domestic water use.

Outreach efforts have been made to promote outdoor residential water conservation and promote methods that provide ecosystem benefits. These include water harvesting using rain barrels, infiltrating storm water using rain gardens, and landscaping with native plants.

There is a need to understand how recent water conservation outreach efforts impact residents' attitudes and behaviors incorporating these low-impact development (LID) strategies. There also is a need to understand whether these efforts subsequently lead to measureable improvements in water conservation and ecosystem health. In addition, it is important to understand the formal and informal role played by the “green industries” – landscapers, arborists, garden centers et al—in promoting residential water conservation.

This study will examine the influence of policy and outreach efforts on residents' adoption of water conservation and storm water strategies in the residential landscapes of the Ipswich and Parker River watershed north of Boston. The Ipswich is considered one of the most threatened rivers in the United States due to polluted storm water runoff and overdraft of water by local communities. Water conservation and storm water management are critical priorities for local government agencies faced with frequent water shortages and impaired water quality. This project will trace watershed conservation measures from policy incentives to impact so as to develop a clearer picture of the relationship between local policy and outreach efforts, and actual decisions to engage and install residential landscape water conservation practices.

This project will include an analysis of local water conservation programs and policies from government documents, as well as interviews with water providers, conservation groups, and members of the landscape industry. This will be followed by surveys of residents about their landscape practices and measurement of actual water use of residents. The overarching outreach impact of this project is to inform conservation practices by local residents and water agencies in order to lessen the amount of water used and restore the ecological health of local rivers and streams. This will be achieved through producing outreach and research information in the form of a summary brochure, research articles, and policy brief that shows which water conservation strategies are more likely to be adopted by residents and which offer the greatest water savings.

Project or Initiative Report: 
Water topics: 
Water Conservation