Year Established: 2014 Start Date: 2014-03-01 End Date: 2015-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $15,210 Total Non-Federal Funds: $31,492
Principal Investigators: Christine Kirchhoff, Juliana Barrett
Abstract: Each summer, hypoxia and algal blooms recur in Long Island Sound (LIS) (EPA, 2011) with significant potential impacts on coastal habitats, food web interactions and fisheries. The algal blooms and resultant hypoxia are strongly impacted by nitrogen (N) loading from riverine sources. Several efforts are underway to reduce nitrogen induced algal blooms and hypoxia in LIS including the development of a Nitrogen Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the LIS watersheds and watershed planning in rivers contributing to the LIS. For example, a watershed plan has been developed for the Niantic River to identify and reduce non-point sources of nitrogen which are strongly associated with the river’s water quality impairment. A complication in addressing nitrogen pollution at the local level is that local land use decision makers have little knowledge about N sources and sinks. As a result, it is difficult for them to factor nitrogen pollution reduction strategies into their decision making. To help achieve desired nitrogen reductions, local decision makers must be armed with information that helps them better understand the connection between different existing and proposed land cover and land uses and associated nitrogen pollution. To fill this identified gap, the University of Rhode Island, in partnership with the University of Arizona and UConn CLEAR with funding from USDA/NIFA and EPA Region I developed a GIS decision support (DSS) tool, “N-Sink”, that relates land use and restoration practices to their potential to act as nitrogen sources and “sinks” (Kellogg et al., 2011). By combining maps and local data for nitrogen sources and sinks, the N-Sink DSS can help local decision makers identify 1) areas that could benefit from source controls and 2) areas to protect and restore given their potential for attenuating N delivery downstream (Arnold et al. 20xx). While the DSS has potential for improving nitrogen -related decision making in LIS watersheds (and nitrogen-impacted watersheds across the USA), DSS adoption is almost never a linear (e.g., develop tooldistribute tooladopt tool) process. What is critically needed at this point in DSS tool development--when the information is new and untested and when demand is not yet established--is to compliment Extension and Sea Grant expertise with research aimed at informing the diffusion and adoption process. This project aims to fill this gap with an in-depth analysis of DSS usability focusing on better understanding the factors that influence information uptake among Niantic River watershed decision makers. Specifically, we propose to: 1) engage the Niantic River Watershed Group members in a discussion of their perceptions of N-pollution, information needs, potential for integrating new information, and their decision making context; 2) implement the N-Sink DSS in a scenario mode driven by unmet information needs and decision contexts; 3) in collaboration with the Niantic River community, use this scenario analysis to facilitate an evaluation of user-defined response options; and, 4) investigate the barriers impeding and drivers aiding DSS use relative to users’ perceptions of N-pollution, information needs, potential for integrating new information, and their decision context. Judy Rondeau, Niantic River Watershed Coordinator, Eastern Connecticut Conservation District and Christine Tomichek, Chair, Board of Directors, Niantic River Watershed Committee support this research effort. The research is supported because results have the potential to increase the use of information and tools that enable local decision makers to account for nitrogen impacts in the decisions they make. In turn, accounting for nitrogen impacts has the potential to aid implementation of watershed plan priorities in the Niantic and other upstream waters that have the potential to improve the water quality in the LIS as a whole. Moreover, if successful, the findings from this research can be used to further refine the DSS development, dissemination strategies, and ultimately its usability in watersheds in Connecticut and elsewhere in the US.