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Environmental diagnosis of an urban basin from a social–ecological perspective

Cortelezzi, Agustina, Barranquero, Rosario S., Marinelli, Claudia B., Fernández San Juan, M. Rocío, Cepeda, Rosana E.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.678 pp. 267-277
basins, developing countries, drainage, ecosystems, environmental degradation, habitats, hills, human population, invertebrates, monitoring, organic matter, physicochemical properties, pipes, sewage, stormwater, streams, tourism, urban areas, urbanization, vegetation cover, watersheds
The critical factor in restoration and conservation of urban streams and their catchments is the human population, however the most of studies of urban ecosystems do not present social descriptors as concrete variables of analysis. The objective of this study is to perform an environmental diagnosis from a social-ecological perspective by considering both ecological and urban development descriptors of an urban basin. We selected 12 sampling sites of the Langueyú upper basin where social and ecological descriptors were determined. We arranged sampling sites according to their physicochemical characteristics (pre-urban, urban and post-urban sites). An ecological index was defined from habitat and biological descriptors: vegetation cover, richness and total density of invertebrates and organic matter. The index determined that urban and post-urban sites showed similar characteristics, and pre-urban sites presented the best habitat and biological conditions. An urbanisation index was defined from urban development descriptors: distance to the stormwater drainage network, number of industries, distance to a house without sewage, impervious surface and housing density. The results showed that the pre-urban and post-urban sites share a greater similarity in relation to the urban descriptors but with different impact in ecological quality. The headwaters in the hills (pre-urban zone) still presents a very good ecological condition (although threatened by urbanisation and tourism); however, once it crosses the dense urban area, no >5 km distance, the environmental degradation is alarming. We were able to determine that the structural measures associated with greater urbanisation, added to illegally connected sewer pipes and illegally industrial connections, produce the ecological degradation of the stream. This environmental diagnosis allowed us a deep understanding of the urbanisation impact on the ecological integrity of an urban stream in a developing country which, like many others, doesn't have monitoring programs or an integrated vision of water resources.