Study: Lawn Care Runoff Needs Local Solutions

An April 23 Sustainable Cities Network article reported on the findings of a recent study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on  addressing runoff from urban and suburban lawns, which cover more land in the United States than any other irrigated crop.  The study looked at irrigation and fertilization patterns in six major cities, including Baltimore, and concluded that local climate and social factors accounted for significant differences in lawn care approaches.  The article concluded that policies addressing lawn care runoff should similarly be tailored to account for unique local conditions.

The study was undertaken to test “the homogenization hypothesis.” Peter Groffman, a scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper’s authors explains, “Neighborhoods in very different parts of the country look remarkably alike, from lawns and roads to water features. This study is the first to test if urbanization produces similar land management behaviors, independent of the local environment.”  …

Among the survey’s findings: residents of Boston and Miami – cities with very different climates – had similar fertilization rates. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the study’s two driest cities (Phoenix and Los Angeles) irrigation was positively correlated with affluence. But overall, local climate and social factors led to more lawn care variability than initially expected, both between and within cities.

[Study research team leader Colin] Polsky noted, “One of the take-home lessons is that responding to lawn care-related environmental challenges may require locally-tailored solutions in more cases than we initially thought. Place matters, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Groffman added, “The management of urban and suburban areas has a direct impact on water resources, carbon storage, and the fate of pollutants, like nitrogen and phosphorus. Yards are also where our environmental knowledge, values, and behavior are likely generated. The good news is that individual actions, on a yard-to-yard-basis, can make a difference.”