Situation: Waterways and waterbodies in New England are threatened or impaired by increasing levels of nutrients, sediments and other nonpoint source contaminants from residential, commercial and municipal properties in urbanizing areas.

NESCI Response:The USDA/NIFA Northeast States and Caribbean Islands (NESCI) Regional Water Center addressed nonpoint source pollution through its Sustainable Landscaping focus area over the last ten years. By collaborating across states and capitalizing on different strengths, the NESCI Sustainable Landscaping group increased their capacity to promote water resource protection locally. Sustainable Landscaping programs promoted practices that decrease stormwater runoff and increase stormwater infiltration into the ground and filtration by healthy plants and soils.

Sustainable Landscaping activities and products, e.g., demonstration sites, rain garden installations, water quality friendly landscape trainings, and store displays, encouraged the adoption of water quality and quantity-friendly practices. Individual program strengths were shared region-wide to efficiently transfer information on water quality to homeowners and landcare professionals. For example, research on rain gardens and water-friendly residential turf management conducted at the University of Connecticut was extended and incorporated into programs throughout the region. The “Stormwater Management in your Backyard” program from Rutgers has trained and delivered rain garden train-the-trainer programs in NY and NJ as well as outside the region in VA. These trainings for professional landscapers interested in green industry principles triggered collaborations with Universities of CT, NH, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.

Extension water programs worked with many partners, including federal,state, county and local agencies, municipalities, non-land grant institutions, professional associations, watershed and environmental groups. Sustainable Landscaping drew internal partners across academic disciplines, focus areas, and Land and Sea Grant programs. For example, focus area members partnered with NESCI Nonpoint Education of Municipal Officials (NEMO) programs to deliver several Northern New England Low Impact Development conferences for hundreds of engineers, landscape architects, and other professionals. With agricultural Extension programs, including Master Gardeners and Integrated Pest Management programs, the Sustainable Landscaping group ensured that related opinion leaders were sharing common messages. Strong and broad partnerships helped NESCI Sustainable Landscaping expand their reach to promote better land management for water quality.

Regional efforts leveraged additional funding to support sustainable landscaping research, education and extension. Grants awarded from USDA/NIFA Extension-Education and Integrated Projects programs and other grant programs, e.g. EPA 319, expanded small efforts within the region into projects with greater levels of investment, rigor, evaluation and impact. For example, individual state interests in water quality friendly lawn care were expanded into a multi-state, cross-disciplinary research, education and extension project. Results included science-based recommendations for lawn care practices based on water quality considerations, a soil-based nitrogen test for turf, and recommendations for framing and delivering lawn care outreach based on extensive social science.

 

On the Ground Results: Sustainable Landscaping programs played important roles in educating opinion leaders (e.g. Master Gardeners, county Extension agents, professional landscapers and garden center staff) who help shape landowner practices. Pre-Post surveys indicated an increase in Extension program participant knowledge of sustainable landcare practices to protect water quality, greater willingness or intent to adopt new practices, and greater willingness to share program information with others. A growing number of studies from Northeast Extension programs have documented that new sustainable landscaping practices by homeowners have slowly and steadily been adopted. In one study, 17% of yard care do-it-yourselfers reduced their use of lawn chemicals, resulting in less chemical runoff. A number of states including CT, RI and ME, are considering the adaptation of NESCI Sustainable Landscaping recommendations for water quality protection policies and as guidelines for their outreach.