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Water for Thought

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greenstpaul.jpgFor those living in developed cities, water quality control can be a hidden, underground operation unknown to some citizens. But the plants on private and public lands, such as those in parks, sidewalk tree grates and on lawns, are actually a huge part of planned water flow and water quality control.

That's the science side. Then there's the social side: why we make the decisions about how to manage these plants. Do we add synthetic pesticides, organic fertilizer or none at all? Should we sacrifice a block of park space to build an apartment complex?

A project entitled Improving Urban Vegetation for Water Quality, awarded a Discovery Grant in 2011 from IonE, seeks to find out how urban plants play a role in water quality and how people make decisions regarding their management. People appreciate the power to make decisions, but they most often make them within the context of society. We have a natural tendency to learn the social norms of different communities (like a neighborhood or city), such as how well-manicured lawns are expected to be or what plants grow well and are aesthetically pleasing. 

The research team consists of individuals with extremely diverse backgrounds who collaborate with outside parties, such as citizen science volunteers, St. Paul Parks and Recreation and the Capital Region Watershed District. Together, they collect and analyze samples while engaging the community through their Community Advisory Committee. Interdisciplinary work is, according to team member Kristen Nelson, "the place you have to be to do the big complex changes." The project certainly wouldn't be the same without such a large incorporation of knowledge and the public.

With the knowledge produced, the team hopes to have a greater understanding of what influences management decisions and the ways in which social and ecological factors of decision making can be reconsidered by the public when vegetation issues are at hand.

For more information about lawn care, the project and what impact your management decisions have, visit this website.

Photo courtesy of Cliff1066 via Flickr Creative Commons

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  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.