Improving Urban Vegetation for Water Quality

Plants benefit cities in many ways: They regulate climate and air quality, provide recreational opportunities, and much more. Yet we know little about the impacts of various kinds of vegetation on the location, movement and quality of urban water, or about what influences decisions about urban vegetation.

This project is exploring:

  1. how people decide how to manage vegetation on public and private lands and how social networks influence such decisions;
  2. how land cover and management decisions affect water quality; and
  3. how government and other institutions use information about behavior and the effects of vegetation cover and water quality to help or hinder links between people and the environment.

By identifying factors that shape management of vegetation and land cover in urban landscapes and determining the consequences of management for waterways and ecosystem services, the researchers hope to develop strategies for improving water quality in urban settings.

Year 1 Progress Report (January 2012)


In 2011, the researchers collected and analyzed soil and vegetation samples from St. Paul city parks to explore the influence of trees and lawns on nutrient cycling in soils and nutrient flows to groundwater. They also worked with the Capital Region Watershed District to determine variation in nutrient loading of groundwater and storm water across a network of storm water monitoring sites with different land cover. Finally, they established a network of citizen science volunteers who sampled small ponds in the CRWD to examine landscape and seasonal variation in water quality from May through September. Team members have given nine presentations on their work to classes, local community groups and a scientific conference. They have received more than $780,000 from outside donors, including the National Science Foundation and the Bell Museum of Natural History.