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Urban Watershed Research
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Urban Watershed Research

The Ecological Cities Project is currently engaged in a two-year study on the management of urban aquatic ecosystems. Follow the links below for more information on our work.

Project Summary
Case Studies
Watershed Management Goals and Strategies
Watershed Management Issues
Slideshow on Urban Watershed Management
Working Papers


The National Science Foundation has funded a two-year study by the Ecological Cities Project seeks to assess comparative regional experience concerning urban water resources. The rapid sprawl of metropolitan regions since the 1950’s has been accompanied by the degradation of ecological habitats, processes, and resources. Aquatic systems in the path of urbanization, such as local watersheds, streams, wetlands, groundwater aquifers, and coastal waters have been widely polluted, littered, dredged, filled, paved over, channelized, walled, and otherwise abused. In the process, “Nature’s services” (in Gretchen Daily’s term) – such as flood mitigation, water quality filtering, biotic habitat, nutrient uptake, soil formation, and scenic amenity – have been impaired or obliterated. This has compelled cities, regions, states, and the federal government to substitute costly technology for those services, as with structural flood protection and water treatment plants. In addition, water-based recreation, commercial and sport fishing, birding, and visual amenities have all been impaired.

Case Studies

A portion of our research on urban stream management will be presented in a series of detailed case studies. The EC Project is currently conducting case studies of the following urban watersheds:

Anacostia River - Washington, DC
Buffalo Bayou - Houston, TX
Charles River - Boston, MA
Johnson Creek - Portland, OR
Laurel Creek - Ontario, Canada
Little Miami River - Lebanon, OH
Milwaukee River - Milwaukee, WI
Nine Mile Run - Pittsburgh, PA
Park River - Hartford, CT

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Watershed Management Goals and Strategies

Water Quality
Flood Hazard Reduction
  • Point Sources
  • Nonpoint Sources
  • TMDLs
  • Riverine
  • Estuarine
  • Stormwater
Water Supply
Recreation and Aesthetics
  • Surface
  • Ground
  • Watershed Management
  • Waterfront Access
  • Boating and Fishing
  • Parks
  • Greenways/Trails
Economic and Social
  • Ports and Navigation
  • Tourism
  • Brownfield Reuse
  • Neighborhood Regreening
  • Aquatic
  • Riparian
  • Terrestrial
  • Environmental Education

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Urban Watershed Management Issues

  • Conflicting management objectives
  • Overcoming political fragmentation
  • Balancing public and private interests
  • Changing priorities over time - e.g. flooding, biodiversity
  • Social justice - wealthy and poor share same watersheds
  • Unfunded federal mandates - e.g. filtration of drinking water
  • NIMBYism
  • Bureaucracy and red tape
  • Shifting personnel - loss of institutional memory

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© 2006 The Ecological Cities Project
All Rights Reserved
Last Updated: January 20, 2006