Water & Society

Policies, attitudes, and ecosystems in the Tampa Bay region
Learn more from our press release video and article, and this project’s Facebook page

Our lab collaborates with an interdisciplinary cast of scientists and resource managers to understand the drivers and consequences of water policy in the Tampa Bay region. Water policy comprises a set of decisions that, in part, revolve around where to get water and where to transfer it. This issue lies in the conceptual domain of natural resource redistribution, a problem that is basic to ecology and biogeochemistry, as humans have always spatially rearranged water, nutrients, and organisms. It is also basic to anthropology and political ecology because natural resource availability shapes culture and is distributed unevenly among people. Cities and their hinterlands provide excellent forums for investigating how resource redistribution happens and why it matters.

Urban ecosystems are severely heterotrophic, and consume far more natural resources than they produce. They must concentrate resources from much larger areas. Yet, the drivers and consequences of this redistribution remain poorly understood. What social relationships facilitate the redistribution of resources from broad, often rural, areas into cities? What are the social and ecological consequences of this redistribution in both resource-providing and resource-receiving regions? What ecological and social outcomes of resource redistribution feed back to shape future resource policy? Our efforts to answer these questions have been funded by the National Science Foundation.

We study the Tampa Bay Region Socioecosystem in west-central Florida, where water limits urban development. Here, water is transferred from rural and suburban groundwater wellfields to the Tampa Bay metropolis. Wetlands provide sentinel response systems that are monitored for the effects of groundwater drawdown and other changes (such as urban land development) that derive from water policy. The research has three emphases. First, the project is surveying residents to quantify demographic and geographic variability in perceptions, values, and awareness of hydrological and wetland change. Second, to document how organizational structure and public feedback affect policy, we interview key informants and observe participant interactions at public meetings. Third, the project uses geographic information systems and field data to study how urbanization alters the landscape around wetlands, and how the hydrology, plant community, and organic matter storage of wetlands respond to water redistribution.