Graham Sustainability Institute

Urban water quality management towards a sustainable framework— the investigation of fine-scale urban form effects on stream water quality

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In urban settings, healthy stream ecosystems provide important services, including drinking water, recreation, and natural beauty. Urban stream water quality is determined by a complex set of variables that include water infrastructure design, land-development regulation, site design, and ecological contexts. This research team aims to create a first-of-its-kind multidisciplinary framework to approach urban water quality management. Together with the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), the team will pilot its work in the Huron River watershed.

Researchers will create a scenario-planning tool that HRWC and local jurisdictions can use to compare water-quality outcomes under different urban development scenarios from the regional pollutant-loading standards. The team will also publish an urban environment database with current conditions of all Huron River subwatersheds, which planners and researchers everywhere can access, adapt, and use. Parts of the project could become a state-of-the-art case study to introduce students to the concepts, methods, and solutions prevalent in the field of urban sustainability.

What sets this study apart from other urban water quality research is its emphasis on ‘urban form,’ or the patterns, layouts, and structures that compose built-up areas. Urban form connects factors that drive water-quality degradation with management decisions like zoning, master planning, and water policy—but its influence on water quality has rarely been quantified. The results of this study will provide essential information for water resource managers and policymakers to devise actionable and cost-effective solutions for water quality management in the pre-development stage.

Project team: Runzi Wang, PI (U-M SEAS), Yang Chen (U-M Statistics), Robert Goodspeed (U-M TCAUP), Branko Kerkez (U-M Civil and Environmental Engineering), Joshua Newell (U-M SEAS)

Partner: Huron River Watershed Council