Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2012MI202B

Water Quality and Nonpoint Source Disproportionality: Addressing the Structural Factors

Institute: Michigan
Year Established: 2012 Start Date: 2012-03-01 End Date: 2013-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $30,738

Principal Investigators: Stephen Gasteyer

Abstract: This proposal seeks to address the problem of non point source water quality impairments, focusing specifically on the problem of disproportionality (the 10% of the population who are responsible for a majority of land based water quality impairments). We seek to explain the social, economic, and structural factors that might explain actions that impede water quality. Research will be conducted on water quality, but more specifically on under what drives institutions and individuals adopt practices that protect or enhance water quality. I am particularly interested in the counter-factual – in conditions where most people and institutions have adopted practices to protect water quality, what are the structural, interactional, and culture factors that prevent adoption by the 10% that are the largest part of the pollution problem. Problem: The contribution of non-point source (NPS) pollutants to water quality impairments has been a major issue in the environmental management and water quality literature since the early 1990s. Perry and Vanderklein (1996), for instance, argued that NPS contributions were the most vexing impediments to achieving the Clean Water Act goals of 100 percent drinkable, fishable and swimmable water bodies at the end of the 20th Century. One of the major issues in mitigating NPS water impairment is that it involves, by definition, working with multiple actors. These actors are likely to make contributions to water quality problems that are minimal, hard to detect, and probably the result of those actors simply acting rationally. For instance, a given contribution to water quality impairment may simply be the result of actions to maximize the economic potential of a given piece of land. Among those implicated in NPS violations are farmers and landowners. Given the difficulty in regulating these actors, NPS is thought to be best mitigated through their organization and mobilization within watershed or other hydrologic zones. Much of the literature on NPS mitigation has focused on the water quality and related impacts of particular educational programs regarding types of best management practices (BMPs), such as wetland buffers. (See, for instance, Lowrance, Dabney, and Schultz 2000.) While these activities have traditionally been voluntary (incentivized through government conservation programs), there is increasing concern that these BMPs are failing to deliver adequate and sustainable water quality improvements (Jackson-Smith, et al. 2011). While BMPs generally have the intended impact on land and water when implemented, there are occasionally problems with farmers removing conservation BMPs when they cut too deeply into the potential profit of planting an additional acre of land (Nowak, et al. 2006). Additionally, piecemeal application of BMPs is unlikely to have a significant impact on water quality, as water quality can be impaired from the unamended land. Novak, et al. (2006) argued that there is a significant problem with disproportionality: that 90% of NPS problems in any given watershed are attributable to 10% of the land – and by implication 10% of the land owners. With improved satellite, remote sensing and runoff modeling techniques it is increasingly possible to identify the tracts of land that are responsible for water quality impairment. The problem is what to do with this knowledge? This proposal builds on the part of this literature that addresses the 10% that have failed to adopt better practices, and proposes an approach that assesses the structural and social conditions that contribute to the decisions not to adopt best management practices. Rather than the individual farmer values and behaviors, we propose attempting to understand the social, economic, cultural, and structural conditions that may lead to adoption and nonadoption. The social aspects of water quality protection have received increasing attention since the mid 1990s. Much of this research has focused on the processes that lead land owners and farmers to protect water quality. Morton (2005) termed efforts to protect watershed management, civic watershed initiatives, that expanded rural democracy through inviting people into civic communities around water quality protection. She cites the Maquoketa Watershed Association and the Lake Rathbun watershed initiatives in Iowa as examples. Weber (2000) has called such initiatives grass-roots ecosystem management (GREM), which: relies on decentralization, collaboration, citizen participation, and a holistic worldview that seeks to simultaneously promote environment, economy, and community (Weber 2000: 237). This research builds on work by Salamon, et al. (1998), who argued that social capital was the critical piece in creating the relationships necessary to protect source water from Otter Lake in Illinois. Weber (2000), for instance, argued that water quality protection may be related to shared attachment by farmers and non-farmers to a given water body. Farmers, after all, fish and swim in a passing stream, even if they don’t necessarily use that water for drinking. Some have argued that source water protection (SWP) in groundwater systems would be more difficult, since groundwater is neither visible, nor is it a type of water body that people interact with in multiple ways. We will focus on the role of the community water system operators along with non-governmental groups, and regulatory agencies as critical in implementing SWP in groundwater systems. Our work will build on a growing body of literature that aims to understand the how farmers are encouraged to take action to protect drinking water quality (Peckman, et al. (2005), CTIC (2005), Ferraro (2004), Gasteyer (2003) and Czapar, et al. (2002)). Methods: This proposal aims to address the problem of disproportionality in southeastern and south-central Michigan, where water quality is a critical on ongoing concern not only because of inland lakes, rivers and streams, but because of the influence of actions on water quality in the Great Lakes. Indeed, water quality impairments can have a significant impact on beaches and tourism. We will address this issue through a multiscale approach. 1)We will collect Census and other secondary information on pertinent counties and places to provide a context for the social aspects of water quality; 2)We will collect information on water advocacy organizations in the pertinent counties and watersheds; 3)We will carry out interviews, surveys, and/or focus groups with community activists to try to determine: a) how information on issues such as sources of water quality impairment are communicated and diffused; b) the mechanisms used to communicate conservation information to land owners and produces; c) what social sanctions (if any) are utilized at the local level to achieve mitigation of water quality impairments; d) opinions about the reasons for not implementing BMPs to protect water quality. Objectives: The objectives of this proposal are to: a) document the social, economic and political factors that contribute to water quality impairments in southeast Michigan; b) document the social impacts of water quality impairments; c) document the role of social movements (watershed organizations; drainage districts; cooperatives; community water and sanitation systems, or other entities) in implementing water quality; d) determine social strategies to address water quality impairments in southeastern and south central Michigan.