Coastal SEES Collaborative Research: Restoration, Redevelopment, Revitalization and Nitrogen in a Coastal Watershed

PIs: P. M. Groffman (lead PI), L E. Band, E. Doheny, J. Morgan Grove, S. LaDeau, A.J. Miller, D. Newburn, E.J. Rosi- Marshall,  C. Towe,  C. Welty

Funding Source: National Science Foundation (9/1/14- 8/31/17)


This research is addressing the complex interactions between biophysical and social science factors that underlie the effects of urbanization on coastal sustainability. Building on the long-term coupled socio-ecological research of the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Baltimore urban long-term ecological research (LTER) project, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), the work will resolve critical uncertainties related to urban stream and watershed
restoration efforts focused on Chesapeake Bay. A team of ecologists, engineers, geographers, hydrologists, sociologists and economists will evaluate the nitrogen benefits and public support for a series of old and new stream restoration projects in the Baltimore area and determine if the nitrogen benefits of these restorations and other green infrastructure interventions are significant and visible in watershed-scale nitrogen mass balances. The group will assess the willingness of stakeholders to adopt these interventions in neighborhoods varying in socio-economic
status and distance to the coast and carry out economic and policy analyses of stream and watershed restoration efforts. This information will be used to identify "sweet spots" within the urban to exurban complex where social and biophysical factors converge to create opportunities for restoration and revitalization.

Intellectual Merit
Excess nitrogen associated with urbanization is a critical threat to the sustainability of coastal systems across the globe. More than half the estuaries in the US show some level of impairment due to excess N. Concerns about nitrogen have intensified with the development of watershed implementation plans to achieve nutrient reductions required for compliance with new total maximum daily load regulations. The proposed research will address the environmental, social and economic aspects of urban coastal sustainability and will produce insights that could transform assessments and management of coastal sustainability across the globe. The research will resolve key uncertainties about nitrogen dynamics in a vitally important, increasingly common and dynamic land use type in the coastal zone, and directly address the human social and economic factors that underlie the capacity for improving these dynamics: How efficient are stream restoration and installation of green infrastructure in reducing nitrogen delivery to the coast? Are these effects easily overwhelmed by degradation of fundamental sanitary infrastructure? Do coastal residents of different socio-economic status and distance to the coast really know and care about the ecological integrity of receiving waters? Can their knowledge and interest be increased with citizen science efforts? Answers to these questions will point the way forward for cities to address a key component of coastal sustainability
on a sounder biophysical, social and economic footing.

Broader Impacts
The proposed research will build on ongoing relationships with environmental managers in Baltimore City and County in the areas of water quality and sustainability. Interactions with environmental managers will occur through face-to-face interviews, webinars, and research summaries with technical staff in the Chesapeake Bay Program, Maryland State Departments of Natural Resources and the Environment; Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, and Baltimore City Departments of Recreation and Parks, Public Works, and Office of Sustainability; non-governmental organizations such as the Parks & People Foundation, Blue Water Baltimore, Civic Works, the Neighborhood Design Center; and local community groups. Presentations of results will be made at the annual Maryland Water Monitoring Council. Morgan Grove, who has worked with these groups in Baltimore for more than 20 years and is the Team Leader of the US Forest Service Baltimore Field Station, will coordinate these activities. We will also initiate a citizen science effort where residents collect data on pests and garbage associated with green infrastructure and determine if this effort increases knowledge of and enthusiasm for restoration practices. This effort will directly address concerns that many Baltimore residents have expressed about crime, pest production, and garbage associated with restoration and green infrastructure activities. In addition to these two novel education and outreach efforts, graduate and undergraduate students will be involved through more traditional programs at each of our participating institutions.