Changing lawns to waterwise landscapes with citizen scientists – a poster at #PPSR2012

This weekend, the good folks at the Citizen Science Community Forum (which has grown out of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science programs) is holding the 2012 Conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research (#PPSR2012 on twitter) in Portland, Oregon, as a prelude to the Ecological Society of America’s 97th Annual Meeting (#ESA2012). It feels a bit odd for me to be writing about both of these meetings from half a world away, but as it happens I will be present in more than just spirit at both these meetings! For I am a co-author on several presentations, and even helped organize a symposium. Seems foolish to not be there in person after all this, but such is life.

Here’s the abstract of the first item my name is on: a poster Kaberi will present today at the PPSR conference in Poster Session 3 (1:00-2:30PM if you happen to be there and want to see it):


waterwise landscape, citizen science, urban habitat, Fresno, water

Kaberi Kar Gupta, Fresno Audubon Society, California State University-Fresno

Steven Jones, Fresno Audubon Society, California State University-Fresno

Madhusudan Katti, Fresno Audubon Society, California State University-Fresno

Fresno has been facing challenges in water conservation. Between the coupled effects of industrial agriculture and home yard maintenance, extraordinary demands have been placed on the region’s water resources. While water scarcity is a complex issue facing the entire California, Fresno city did not have residential water meters until mid 2012. Of the total residential water 70% is used for irrigating yard. This study is a collaborative, volunteer-driven, residential landscape project in Fresno-Clovis Metropolitan area (FCMA). The Main focuses of this project are to understand the perception of homeowners and the effect of residential water use on urban biodiversity.

Specific goals are to understand the needs of people; increase the native vegetations; reduce non-native grass and monitor the plants, birds and arthropod diversities in residential yards. Focus groups with homeowners and mapping of yards are currently ongoing. Bird, arthropod and plant surveys in existing grass and non-grass yards will be measured. This project will build a dynamic and active coalition of local government, homeowners, community organizations, educational institutions, and environmental groups helping to create a sustainable environment. This program will help homeowners install water-conserving plants in their yards, providing enhanced biodiversity and new habitat for birds and insects.

via Posters | Citizen Science Community Forum.

In case you are not able to see the poster live during the session, you can also view it in PDF form on Scribd. If you do see it live in Portland, and happen to drop by here afterwards, please give me a shoutout in the comments below!

More on my ESA presentations over the next few days.

About aranyak

I am an associate professor of vertebrate ecology at California State University, Fresno.
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2 Responses to Changing lawns to waterwise landscapes with citizen scientists – a poster at #PPSR2012

  1. Macrobe says:

    I find this quite revealing: “Focus group participants wanted information on government ‘s water policies, water pricing and waterwise landscape but are not ready to change the landscape unless the price of water gets significantly higher.” And especially the differences in attitudes between those of the focus group (six participants in the $40,000-80,000 annual income bracket?) and those in the groups associated with more environmentally-conscious attitudes. The results of your preliminary study are probably typical and representative of most regions. One exception may be more arid regions, such as in the SW deserts. Highly populated urban areas in the desert regions may be slightly more conscientious of water use, but cost of water still has the highest impact on attitudes and behavior towards water conservation and the human-manipulated landscape.

    From limited observations of smaller communities in the SW deserts, grass lawns are rare to non-existent. Two explanations for that are the high cost of water resources and low-income families. If water was more economical, would these families choose to plant and maintain grass lawns? Or refrain due a water conservation framework of value, attitudes and behavior? That would be a good test. The cost of resources, especially water, seems to be the most prevalent driving factor in behavior, more so than attitudes and values.

    I have also wondered how much influence the public landscape has on environmental awareness, attitudes and behavior of community individuals, both business and residential. If the public landscape were to adopt xeriscaping, even replacing grass and lawn areas with native plants, would this influence the private sector to follow suit? If so, the spatial-temporal rate change would be interesting to document because it would more accurately reflect and predict changes in attitudes and behavior. As we know, attitudes and behavior are sometimes at odds. :)

    Looking forward to more data on this project, especially from other income brackets. Thanks for sharing the poster.

  2. aranyak says:

    Great comments, Macrobe! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Fresno, while not considered to be in a desert, is arid enough that it should exhibit patterns similar to the desert cities you mention. We’ve been developing a direct comparison with Tucson, for example: both cities are of similar size, and get similar amounts of rainfall (if anything, Fresno gets somewhat less, but it has more groundwater and Sierra snowmelt to draw upon). 25 years ago, both cities looked similar, with plenty of lush lawns and mesic vegetation in yards. But they’ve diverged considerably since then mainly because Tucson installed meters and started charging on a strong tiered pricing model. The people of Fresno, around the same time, voted against metering in a public referendum, and carried on watering their yards merrily as before. So Tucson now looks like the arid cities you describe, while Fresno looks like a town in the midwest!

    So you are perfectly on point in emphasizing the importance of water pricing, and public policy, in shaping attitudes. We are hoping that the onset of metering in Fresno will lead to similar changes here, and intend to continue monitoring both the environment and residents’ attitudes to see what happens over the next 5 or 10 or 15 years (fingers crossed that our research continues to get funded!). Thus far, the city has been slow in moving towards strong progressive tiered pricing structures, so we’ll see how it goes.

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