Linking Stormwater BMP Implementation and Mosquito Infestation to Resident Socioeconomic Status, Knowledge, and Attitudes in Two Suburban Watersheds

Principal Investigator:

Paul Leisnham

Start/End Year:

2016 - 2017


University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Environmental Science and Technology

Co-Principal Investigator:

Kanoko Maeda, University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Environmental Science and Technology

Strategic focus area:

Resilient communities and economies


The quality of water in our streams, lakes, and estuaries results from interactions between the biophysical landscape and the attitudes and behaviours of communities. Unfortunately, the majority of watershed research and intervention programs have been on either the biophysical or the social components alone. The artificial separation of coupled human-natural dimensions of watersheds appears particularly damaging in urban systems that are under acute stress from non-point source pollution, are managed by numerous private landowners, and that already experience numerous social and environmental stressors. Sustained community based participation is desperately needed to help achieve Chesapeake Bay restoration goals, yet we still know very little about the underlying social factors that may act as barriers (or incentives) to household BMP implementation. The overall goal of my thesis is to better understand barriers to BMP implementation by exploring the links between resident demographics, knowledge and behaviors so that appropriate education can be more effectively developed and targeted. I aim to test relationships between resident knowledge, attitudes, and BMP implementation along socio-economic and other demographic gradients. The focus of the first year of my MS research has been to quantitatively analyze human survey data that was collected in 2014- 15. My preliminary analyses show strong relationships between demographics, knowledge and BMP implementation. They also indicate that nearly 80% of all residents are concerned of mosquito breeding within stormwater BMPs and that this concern may be an important barrier to BMP adoption. Thus, as part of the second year of my MS research, I intend to explore social factors (demographics, knowledge, attitudes) that predict resident mosquito concerns that predict BMP and mosquito management, and test if mosquito concerns in BMPs is related to actual mosquito risks from these potential habitats. I will use these findings to develop a variety of extension outputs, including reports, factsheets, and presentations, on bio-rational household mosquito management in at-risk BMPs, clarify the actual risks of mosquito production from household BMPs compared to other habitats, and increase BMP adoption.


Relevance: Urban stormwater runoff is a growing source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, and one of the hardest to combat. Reducing this form of pollution requires that stakeholders be convinced to take action, often at their own expense, to minimize common nutrient pollutants, including nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers, from running off their land and washing down storm drains. In order to control stormwater runoff, residents and landowners need to be convinced to install best management practices that help retain and infiltrate stormwater onsite. Many people believe that holding standing water, whether in a garden feature, a rain barrel or pond, will increase the number of mosquitoes in their yards. However, not using these practices results in more stormwater pollution.

Response: Dr. Paul Leisnham of the University of Maryland worked with Maryland Sea Grant Coastal Resilience Fellow Kanoko Maeda and undergraduate assistants to design and distribute a questionnaire that assessed residents' knowledge of and behavior towards urban stormwater and mosquito production in backyard landscapes. They also tested how residents responded to print educational material regarding BMPs and stormwater management. Further, researchers conducted mosquito surveys to test if the most common backyard stormwater structure (disconnected downspouts that drain into gardens rather than sewers) provided habitat for more mosquitoes than backyard containers that collect water (e.g., buckets, birdbaths).

Results: The questionnaire showed that residents who knew more about water resources and BMPs lived in households that used BMPs more often. Residents’ familiarity with BMPs strongly varied with ownership status. Respondents 50 years of age or older were most likely to practice source reduction in disconnected downspouts. Printed educational material did little to change residents’ behavior. These results suggest that careful development and distribution of educational messaging may help residents better understand stormwater management. Mosquito surveys revealed that disconnected downspouts resulted in many fewer mosquitoes than other backyard containers. The research team shared this vital information with households, homeowner associations, and nonprofit groups to dispel the myth that stormwater structures produce mosquitoes and to encourage more residents to use practices to reduce runoff.

Related Publications:

Maeda, PK; Chanse, V; Rockler, A; Montas, H; Shirmohammadi, A; Wilson, S; Leisnham, PT. 2018. Linking stormwater Best Management Practices to social factors in two suburban watersheds. PLOS One13(8):1 -23. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0202638. UM-SG-RS-2018-13.

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