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Program Educates Local Decision Makers On Relationship between
Land Use and Water Quality
    by: James Davenport

 

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Every day, local elected and appointed officials are making critical decisions pertinent to land use planning and natural resources. Local officials continuously face many challenges interpreting how activities on the local landscape impact the quality of nearby streams, lakes and rivers.

Since 1991, the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) project has educated decision-makers on the correlation between local land use decisions and water quality. In fact, NEMO has become a model for a new national network to address nonpoint source pollution. (see box)

According to EPA, the most widespread and significant source of pollution to our nation's rivers, lakes, and estuaries is nonpoint source pollution. These include runoff from rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation that picks up pollution as it moves and deposits it into rivers, lakes, and coastal waters, or into ground water. While the impact to our waterways of individual nonpoint sources may be small, the cumulative effect of these significantly degrades water quality.

The NEMO project was developed by the University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, in partnership with the Department of Natural Resources Management and Engineering and the Connecticut Sea Grant Program. The purpose of the project is to position water resource protection into context with other community issues such as suburban sprawl, community character, etc.

NEMO works closely with local land use decision-makers and town-level commissioners and presents information in their terms. NEMO also uses advanced technologies—geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and the Internet—and face-to-face training to form the basis of its education programs. The objective is to use the technology to show the picture of a town or watershed so that land use planners and decision makers can look at a proposed development within the context of that town and watershed.

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One key element of NEMO is that they use impervious surface coverage (such as streets and parking lots) to estimate existing and future water quality conditions. According to Chet Arnold, co-director of the NEMO project, "Impervious cover is a simple and elegant, scientifically relevant indicator of population density and urbanization, and therefore is a good way to estimate their impact on water resources."
Though the program is relatively new, the NEMO program has extended beyond Connecticut and projects are being initiated all across the country. In northeastern South Carolina, The Waccamaw River had demonstrated water quality problems dating back a dozen years. The South Carolina Sea Grant program wanted to educate stakeholders on the importance of watershed protection and to implement the three tools of watershed protection as put forward in the NEMO model:
    1. Resource based planning
    2. Innovative site design, and
    3. Best Management Practices for stormwater control.

Since there was substantial changes in the watershed, including growth in the city of Myrtle Beach and along the Grand Strand, it was a perfect fit for the NEMO model. The program provided the critical information to help the elected and appointed officials in Georgetown and Horry counties to link the land use decisions they were making to local water quality.

The South Carolina Sea Grant program was the lead agency in the pilot project working with other key partners including Clemson Extension and the Waccamaw Regional Planning and Development Council. The project was funded through a Section 319 EPA grant, administered by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The project has been an ongoing process. To date, Cal Sawyer, Coastal Environmental Quality Specialist of the state’s Sea Grant Extension Program, has given 47 different presentations to local grass roots organizations, civic clubs, workshops and conferences, planning commissions, local staffs, and to the more targeted elected officials. According to Mr. Sawyer, “the only way to ensure success over the long stretch is to obtain ‘buy-in’ from the local groups. In addition we have received very favorable press coverage, which also alerts the general public. The advantage of the NEMO model is that it can be tailored to almost any situation. The effort can be lead by an agency, a university, the extension service, the county, or a local grass roots group.”

Mr. Sawyer also notes “there are several key components to any successful program however. There needs to be an expert on water quality, land use planning, and GIS. In addition, one member of the team has to effectively deliver the message.”

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In Indiana, the Illinois- Indiana Sea Grant College Program began “The Planning With POWER (Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources) project which linked local land use decision-making to watershed/natural resource based planning. The Planning With POWER project utilized two successful ongoing projects:
    1. the Purdue Extension Land Use Team for the primary delivery mechanism of the educational program; and
    2. the Indiana Conservation partnership for technical support on watershed planning.

The project was funded through the IDEM 319 Grant, Purdue Extension Service, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency Coastal Services Center.

In Ohio, the NEMO project (an OSU Extension program) was funded as a pilot project under the 1999 US Department of Agriculture Water Quality Initiative. Due to limited resources and personnel, Ohio NEMO has opted to partner with as many resource organizations as possible including the Center for Watershed Protection, the Low Impact design group out of Maryland and the National NEMO program.

Since July of 1999, the Ohio NEMO program has:
    1. produced several factsheet on nonpoint source pollution;
    2. assisted with the development of model stormwater management strategies and standards;
    3. organized and cosponsored a very successful Center for Watershed Protection 2-day workshop;
    4. initiated a new program on the OSU campus "CampuShed" (program to implement, among other things, alternative stormwater treatment on all new parking lots and eventually all new construction on campus); and
    5. developed, presented and distributed a PowerPoint presentation on NEMO and how NEMO can assist counties reduce the impact of land use development in Ohio's water quality.

In the near future, Ohio NEMO will conduct a workshop specifically for county commissioners and county engineers (in collaboration with County Commissioners Association of Ohio and County Engineers Association of Ohio) comparing the effectiveness and costs of alternative options to stormwater control.

To help guide the NEMO national network, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have formed the National NEMO Network Interagency Workgroup. Organizations like the American Planning Association and the National Association of Counties also are members.

According to Arnold, research and the evolution of the program is developing a more sophisticated way for local land use decision makers to visualize alternatives for the future," Arnold says. "The key for agencies to reach their goals in addressing issues like smart growth, Phase II storm water management, and conserving biodiversity boils down to local land use. The way to work with local land use decision makers and help them do their incredibly important and difficult jobs is through education—but on their terms and within the context of the way they do business. NEMO is just one approach to doing that."

For more information on the NEMO program, please contact Chet Arnold at 860/345-4511 carnold@uconn.edu or John Rozum at jrosum@canr.uconn.edu.

NACo’s Nonpoint Source Pollution Prevention Project would like to thank the following contributors to this article:
    Cal Sawyer, South Carolina Sea Grant Project
    Bob McCormick, Indiana Department of Forestry and Natural Resources
    Tim Lawrence, Ohio State University Extension

For more information on the project, please contact James Davenport at 202/661-8807.

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