Cooperative Research Units
Education, Research And Technical Assistance For Managing Our Natural Resources
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Understanding the factors that influence outdoor residential water conservation: a case study in suburban Boston

Residential rain garden


October 2012 - September 2015


In the face of recent droughts and climate change impacts, water conservation is critical for meeting water demands of humans and freshwater ecosystems. Since residential landscaping is a major component of domestic water use, efforts to promote outdoor residential water conservation are critical. Water harvesting using rain barrels, infiltrating stormwater using rain gardens, and landscaping with native plants have been promoted through outreach campaigns as a means to reduce water use and provide ecosystem benefits. There is a need to understand how these recent water conservation outreach efforts impact local residents’ attitudes towards and behaviors incorporating these low-impact development (LID) strategies, and subsequently lead to measureable improvements in water conservation and ecosystem health. In addition, it is important to understand the formal and informal role the green industry plays in promoting residential landscape water conservation.

Our project aims to trace watershed conservation measures from policy incentives to impact so as to develop a clearer picture of the relationship between local policy and outreach efforts, and actual decisions to engage and install residential landscape water conservation and stormwater management strategies. The project goals are:
1) to identify local policy and outreach efforts across the watershed and to evaluate connections between those and the adoption of LID practices,
2) to explore the factors that influence local residents’ decisions to engage in low impact development strategies to conserve domestic water and manage stormwater,
3) to understand the connection between adoption of water conservation practices and actual water quantity savings at the household and watershed scales, and
4) to enhance local agencies’ outreach efforts to promote LID and water conservation tools and techniques that are readily adopted by local residents and provide the greatest benefit for the environment and human well-being.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Danford, R.S., A. Milman, A.H. Roy and R. Ryan. In prep. Environmentally relevant behavior in a suburban Massachusetts watershed: the role of water providers in residential water conservation.


  • Argo, E.E., A.H. Roy, and R.L. Ryan. 2015. Quantifying outdoor residential water use in the Ipswich River watershed: what influences residents’ behavior. New England Association of Environmental Biologists, 18-20 March 2015, Bartlett, NH, .
  • Argo, E.E., A.H. Roy, R.L. Ryan, and A. Milman. 2015. Quantifying outdoor residential water use in the Ipswich River watershed: what influences residents' behavior. New England Graduate Student Water Symposium, 11-13 Sep 2015, Amherst, MA.
  • Argo, E.E., A.H. Roy, R.L. Ryan, and A. Milman. 2016. Factors influencing outdoor residential use in the Ipswich River Watershed. New England Association of Environmental Biologists, 23-25 March 2016, Rockport, ME.
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Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 142

Post Docs: 53

University Staff: 240

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 701

Scientific Publications: 1936

Presentations: 4260



  • Allison RoyCo-Principal Investigator
  • Robert L RyanPrincipal Investigator
  • Anita MilmanCo-Principal Investigator
  • Rachel S DanfordStudent
  • Johanna StacyStudent
  • Emily ArgoStudent
  • Kara CampbellStudent

Funding Agencies

  • University of Massachusetts Center for Agriculture


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey