Publication Date

July 2021

Streams in urbanizing watersheds often experience low flows in summer due to increased water use for residential landscaping and decreased base flow as impervious land cover limits aquifer recharge. Environmentally beneficial landscape practices that save water and infiltrate runoff have the potential to provide multiple ecological benefits including reducing stress on urban streams, but can face opposition by local homeowners. Thus, this study explored attitudes toward landscape water conservation including the barriers and motivations that exist to adoption of water conserving landscape practices by residents in the Ipswich River watershed north of Boston, Massachusetts (USA) that experiences seasonal water shortages. The study used a mail-out and on-line survey with images of different water conserving landscape practices (including rain gardens and native plantings) and questions about homeowners’ watering practices, likelihood of adopting these landscape practices, and attitudes towards environmental issues in the region, including existing water policies to restrict use. The results showed that residents (n=265) were aware of existing water shortages and supportive of water conservation policies. Their willingness to adopt water conserving landscape practices was influenced by aesthetic preference with more support for practices that appeared neat rather than those that appeared unkempt. Barriers to residential adoption of these landscape practices included concern about disease-carrying pests and the perceived cost of landscape change. Knowledge about the environment, as operationalized by membership in a local watershed association, as well as educational attainment and income were statistically significant variables in predicting aesthetic preferences and willingness to adopt landscape practices. Promoting widespread adoption of water conserving landscape practices could benefit from local community support and educational initiatives about the multiple-benefits of these practices, including potential long-term cost savings for homeowners. Residential landscape design and management, however, are only part of overarching policy changes that could address water conservation in urbanizing watersheds.