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Understanding Landowner and Municipal Official Perceptions of Water Quality

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  • 1. HDRU OUTREACH SERIES 11-1 Understanding Landowner and Municipal Official Perceptions of Water Quality in a Local Watershed Shorna Broussard Allred, Margaret Kurth, Carolyn Klocker, & Allison ChatrychanWhat is Water Quality? water quality issues. The collective decisions ofWater quality is a term that describes the physical, landowners can have enormous ramifications forchemical, and biological properties of water, usually water quality.with respect to its use for a particular purpose. Water Understanding landowner perceptions helps localthat may be safe enough to wash your car may not be officials:clean enough to drink or may be harmful to aquaticanimals and plants. Water quality standards help  Maintain and build the public’s trust that localdefine the levels at which certain substances can be government will address residents’ concerns andfound in our water and still be safe for different uses. show that local officials are responsive to thoseHuman dimensions research can help us understand concerns;resident and municipal official perceptions of water  Create communication messages that resonatequality. with the public and to which they will respond;What Threatens Water Quality?  Understand residents’ attitudes about who isWhile the Clean Water Act of 1972 alleviated much responsible for protecting water quality;of the water quality degradation by pollution from  Understand landowner willingness to maintain oridentifiable sources (point sources), addressing change their behavior to improve water quality;pollution from more diffuse, nonpoint sources  Identify problems that arise in the watershedremains a challenge. Nonpoint source pollution does which residents are often the first to experience;not enter streams and lakes via a pipe discharge but andis carried to water bodies by rain or snow thatruns off and through the surrounding landscape.  Identify misconceptions that residents may holdThe close connection between water bodies and about what problems exist, especially those thattheir surrounding landscape makes water quality are invisible to untrained observers.susceptible to negative effects of land-use change. When municipal officials understand their ownTraditional development typically decreases the perspectives as well as those of landowners, they cannatural water filtration and storage mechanisms that align priorities and create responsive policies.exist in a watershed (wetlands, open space, Research Methodsstreamside vegetation, etc.). The Wappinger Creek In the Spring and Summer of 2009, researchers atWatershed can serve as a case study on the threat Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Humanthat development poses to water quality in a major Dimensions Research Unit sent a questionnaire totributary of the lower Hudson River. 1,422 landowners (response rate = 26%) and 326Why is it Important to Understand Perceptions? municipal officials (response rate = 32%) in the 13Improvements in water quality cannot be made municipalities of the Wappinger Creek Watershed inthrough regulation alone but also require the Dutchess County, New York to collect data to informinvolvement of local communities. While municipal outreach and education efforts in the watershed. Thisofficials can and should use water quality data to factsheet reports on the water quality perceptionsguide their land-use decisions, it is also critical that (i.e. attitudes, views, awareness, and concerns) ofthey recognize the distinct human dimension of landowners and municipal officials, how closely
  • 2. their perceptions compare to scientifically identified Municipal officials perceive many of the problemsproblems in the watershed, and the factors that in the watershed as more severe than landowners doinfluence perceptions. and the difference in response is statistically significant for more than half of the water qualityPerceptions of Water Quality problems. Additionally, the frequency of “don’tFigure 1 shows the average responses of landowners know” responses by landowners was more than 50%and municipal officials regarding the extent to which for nearly half of the watershed problems includingthey believe each is a problem in their watershed. pesticides, harmful bacteria, above average water Figure 1: “In your opinion, how much of a temperature, nitrogen, and phosphorus in water problem is each in the Wappinger Creek bodies as well as seepage from septic tanks/sewer Watershed”? lines and well water contamination. The higher Municipal Officials Landowners severity ratings given to watershed problems by Above average water municipal officials, along with their greater degree of temperature certainty may be due to their responsibility to manage watershed quality at the local level. Harmful bacteria in However, their greater certainty and concern does water bodies not necessarily mean they are more aware. Bringing Well water municipal officials’ desire to address watershed contamination problems in line with landowners’ priorities will Loss of streamside need to be carried out through communication about vegetation the issues. Turbidity or muddy * Concerns about Watershed Problems appearance In addition to rating the severity of watershed Pesticides in water problems, survey respondents were asked to choose bodies those problems that are of top concern to them (Table 1). Seepage from septic tanks/sewer lines Table 1: Top Concerns of Watershed Stakeholders Garbage/litter in Municipal Officials Landowners water bodies 1st Sediment deposition Garbage in and around *Loss of aquatic habitat (40%) water bodies (42%) * 2nd Road salt runoff (36%) Seepage from septic Flood damage tanks (31%) Phosphorus in w ater 3rd Garbage in and around Pesticides in water bodies water bodies (24%) (29%) Nitrogen in water * 4th Harmful bacteria in Loss of habitat for bodies water (24%) trout/aquatic species & * Harmful bacteria in Road salt in runoff water (25%) Eroding and unstable * 5th Eroding and unstable Well water stream banks banks (26%) contamination (23%) Invasive plants in * water/along banks Watershed Condition * While stakeholder perceptions should guide local Sediment deposition policies and management actions, these actions must also be grounded in the watershed conditions. 1 2 3 4 Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County Average Perception of held a meeting in May 2010 during which Problem SeverityScale: 1=not a problem, 2=slight problem, 3=moderate problem, 4=severe problem stakeholders of the Wappinger Creek Watershed*statistically significant difference at the p<.05 level
  • 3. reinforced that comparing perceptions with Loss of aquatic habitat: Long and short term trendsscientifically identified water quality problems is a of declining biologic communities have beenpriority for them. Although data does not exist for all observed, probably as a result of land developmentthe problems asked about in the survey, the available pressures on aquatic habitats (Stainbrook, 2006).data can provide a basis for comparison and Invasive Plants: There is excessive invasive weedprioritization. Table 2 identifies the most critical growth, especially in the Southern end of thecauses and effects of pollution in the watershed as watershed where Water Chestnut carpets wateroutlined in the Natural Resource Management Plan bodies.for the Wappinger Creek. The management planaims to guide municipalities in their decision-making Comparing Local Perceptions with Scienceto improve the conditions of the watershed.  While municipal officials recognized that Table 2: Causes and Effects of Pollution in the eroding and unstable stream banks are a problem, Wappinger Creek Watershed as Identified by the they did not rate the probable cause of the Natural Resource Management Plan, 2000. problem, loss of streamside vegetation, as being equally severe. Causes:Nonpoint source pollution from:  Both landowners and municipal officials rated -Septic seepage of nutrients and bacteria the severity of nitrogen and phosphorous equally, -Overland runoff carrying pollutants while the DEC identifies excess phosphorous asLoss of vegetated buffers along streams and lakes a more critical problem. This is likely becauseGrowth pressure nitrogen and phosphorus have a similar effect on the watershed and education efforts often do notEffects: differentiate between the two.Water that does not meet water quality standardsfor its designated uses  Road salt in runoff is rated as the second most-Contaminated drinking water wells severe problem on average by landowners and-Lakes and streams filled in with sediment the fourth most severe by municipal officials.-Eutrophication of lakes and ponds Local data is largely unpublished but information-Excessive aquatic weed growth about degradation of local water bodies by salt is spreading through outreach and educationOther Water Quality Problems efforts.Degradation of downstream lake: Wappinger Lake,  While there is little published data on the effects located just north of the outlet of the creek into the of pesticides on water bodies in the Wappinger Hudson River, acts as a sink for substances that Creek Watershed, landowners and municipal travel downstream and is an indicator of water officials rated the problem of pesticides in water quality issues for the watershed. The primary bodies as moderate in severity, possibly because nonpoint source pollutants in the watershed, of the presence of agricultural areas in the upper sediment and phosphorous, have accumulated in part of the watershed. the Lake and degraded its value as a drinking water source and recreational resource1.  Municipal officials rated sediment deposition as the most severe problem and are most concernedHarmful bacteria: Bacteria is carried to water bodies with this problem. This is in line with the from source on the landscape such as faulty septic scientific conclusion that sediment is a primary systems and agricultural operations. Muddy nonpoint source pollutant in the watershed. appearance of water bodies may indicate that bacteria levels are too high for recreation such as  Landowners reported great concern with garbage swimming. (Natural Resource Management Plan, and litter in and around water bodies. This 2000). indicates that the appearance of the watershed is a priority for landowners.Flood damage: Damage associated with flooding has increased. Flooding is caused by the intensity  Research indicates that seepage from septic of the rainfall but also exacerbated by increasing systems is a substantial problem in the water- impervious surfaces in the watershed which shed, but neither stakeholder group rated the amplifies flooding impacts and damage (Strayer, problem as greater than moderate, on average. 2007). 1 The lake has been placed on the 2010 NYS Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters and a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for phosphorous and sediment is being developed
  • 4. Factors that Affect Perception Local officials and community members can workThere are many factors that can influence to:perceptions of watershed problems. Some of these  Increase and facilitate recreational use of waterfactors include experience with and exposure resources by maintaining creek access points andto the water bodies in the watershed, knowledge of organizing events which get people out on orthe water resources, and information sources. near the water;Understanding the factors which may account forawareness, willingness to change behavior, and  Make water quality information interesting andmisconceptions is valuable to tailoring outreach and accessible so that stakeholders have accurate andeducation that will be effective and resonate with easily understandable information;residents.  Address misconceptions that exist among stake- holders by designing audience-specific outreachUse of the Creek, its Tributaries, and Lakes and education campaigns;Neither landowners nor municipal officials inthe Wappinger Creek Watershed reported very  Use citizen science programs to involve stake-frequent use of the creek, its tributaries, or lakes/ holders in determining the watershed’s conditionponds. Respondents reported enjoying the view most so that people gain a deeper understanding offrequently (often or very often) (68% landowners; water quality issues;62% municipals officials), followed by hiking or  Create a working partnership between residentswalking along water bodies (landowners 34%; and local government officials that will fostermunicipal officials 34%). Activities such as fishing, trust and a place where citizens can share firstcanoeing, and swimming or wading were done less hand experiences they have with watershedfrequently (less than 10% of each group reported problems.often or very often use). Increasing and facilitatingaccess and exposure to the Wappinger Creek and the Referencesnatural environment for both residents and municipal Dutchess County Environmental Management Council, Dutchess County Soil and Water Conservation District, Wappinger Creek Watershed Planningofficials may raise awareness of its condition and Committee and Dutchess County Water Quality Strategy Committee. 2000.increase the salience of watershed issues. Natural Resource Management Plan for the Wappinger Creek Watershed. http://www.hudsonwatershed.org/plans09/wappinger.pdfInformation and Knowledge Stainbrook, K.M., Limburg, K.E., Daniels, R.A., and R.E. Schmidt. 2006.Approximately half of landowners (47.9%) reported Long-term changes in ecosystem health of two Hudson Valley watersheds,that they had sought out water-related information New York, USA, 1936-2001. Hydrobiologia, 571:313-327.while the other half (52.1%) had not. The most Strayer, D. (2007, April 22). Flooding is caused by more than just rainfall.frequently used information sources are a mix of The Poughkeepsie Journal. Retrieved from http://www.fishkillcreekwatershed.org/FCWC/media/PoJo_04_22_07.htmformal and informal types. They include localnewspapers, communication with friends and family, Author Contact Information:Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County Shorna Broussard Allred, Ph.D.(CCEDC), the DEC, and the County Health Dept. Associate ProfessorMunicipal officials were asked about their Department of Natural Resourcesattendance at workshops on land-use planning to Human Dimensions Research Unitprotect natural resources and water quality. Seventy- Cornell University Office: (607) 255-2149five percent of municipal officials have attended www.human-dimensions.orgat least one workshop. Of those that reportedparticipating in trainings, the most frequently TO CITE THIS REPORT:attended were the Pace Land-Use Law training Broussard Allred, S., Kurth, M., Klocker, C. and A.(60%), Dutchess County Planning Federation Chatrychan. 2011. Understanding Landowner andworkshop (45%), and CCEDC Environment Program Municipal Official Perceptions of Water Quality in a Localwatershed and flooding workshops (39%). Watershed. Cornell University Human Dimensions Research Unit (HDRU), HDRU Outreach Series Publication No. 11-1, January 2011.Aligning Perceptions with Management PrioritiesAligning the perceptions of stakeholders and the This project was funded in part by a grant from the Newresearch-based priorities for the watershed will help York State Environmental Protection Fund through a Hudsoncreate a holistic approach to watershed protection. River Estuary Program of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) (contract #303671)