A watershed scale assessment of the impacts of suburban turf management on runoff water quality

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Matt Bachman, Shreeram P Inamdar, Susan Barton, Joshua Duke, Doug Tallamy and Jules Bruck, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, United States
Steadily increasing rates of urbanization have raised concerns about the negative impacts of urban runoff on receiving surface water quality. These concerns have been further amplified by landscaping paradigms that encourage high-input, intensively-managed and mono-culture turf and lawn landscapes. We conducted a watershed-scale assessment of turf management practices on water quality vis-à-vis less-intensive management practices that preserve and enhance more diverse and native vegetation. The study treatments with existing/established vegetation and landscaping practices included turf, urban, forest, meadow, and a mixed site with a professional golf course. Stream water sampling was performed during baseflow and storm events. Highest nutrient (nitrate and total nitrogen) concentrations in runoff were observed for the mixed watershed draining the golf course. In contrast, nutrient concentrations in baseflow from the turf watershed were lower than expected and were comparable to those measured in the surrounding meadow and forest sites. Runoff losses from the turf site may have been minimal due to the optimal quality of management implemented. Total nitrogen concentrations from the turf site increased sharply during the first storms following fertilization, suggesting that despite optimal management there exists a risk for nutrient runoff following fertilization. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations from the turf site were elevated and aromatic in content while the mixed watershed site yielded more labile DOM. Overall, this study suggests that turf lawns, when managed properly, pose minimal environmental risk to surrounding surface waters. Based on the results of this study, providing homeowners with increased information regarding best management practices for lawn maintenance may serve as a cost-efficient method for reducing suburban runoff pollution.