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Quantifying the impact of urban land uses on streamwater quality: a community-based learning approach

Authors: Allison Dunn*, Worcester State University, Paige Robidoux, Worcester State University, Jacquelyn Burmeister, City of Worcester, Department of Public Works and Parks
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Field Methods
Keywords: Water Quality, Human Impacts on Rivers, Community Based Watershed Management, Education
Session Type: Guided Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Streamwater quality is strongly affected by land use patterns within watersheds. In this study, we analyze how the combination of residential, commercial, and recreational land uses across an urban watershed affects downstream conductivity. The watershed studied was Tatnuck Brook, which drains 29.8 km2 in and near Worcester, MA, a city of 185,000 in central Massachusetts. Specific conductance was measured weekly at an upstream and downstream location using a YSI Pro30 conductivity meter. The watershed for the upstream location was dominated by forest, whereas the watershed for the downstream location included many urban land uses. We hypothesized that downstream conductance would be elevated due to anthropogenic factors - primarily road salt usage, but also irrigation runoff from lawns, golf courses, and municipal recreational facilities. We found that downstream specific conductance was 87 ± 21 uS cm-1 higher than upstream, a 167% increase.

To conduct this study, we employed a community-based learning approach that partnered an intermediate-level university course (Hydrology, taken by geography and environmental science majors) with the City of Worcester’s Public Works and Parks Department. The City of Worcester loaned the equipment to the university and helped develop measurement priorities. Students went into the field in pairs throughout the semester to collect measurements. After the conclusion of the class, a student continued the measurements as part of an individual research project. This community-based approach benefited both students (who gained relevant field-based experience) and community partners (who expanded their monitoring programs without hiring extra personnel).

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