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Watershed Planning, The Sequel

Last spring, two envoys came to the shores of Lake Superior bearing a message that could change communities: “Environmentally and economically sustainable land-use decisions are possible!” Like migrating birds, these watershed advocates attracted attention as they passed through the area again this February. Over 70 city planners, educators, and natural resource professionals gathered to listen and, more importantly, learn how to present insightful community planning to local officials at a 1-1/2 day workshop held in Duluth, MN and Superior, WI.

The envoys, John Rozum and Jim Gibbons, are experts on nonpoint source pollution and call the University of Connecticut Sea Grant and Cooperative Extension System their home, when they can. The outreach project that they represent, Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO), has become a national network with a reputation for effectively combining technology, ecology, and community development. Through NEMO, Rozum and Gibbons train people to understand, visualize, and then communicate the relationship between community development and water quality to community officials.

New federal legislation and increasing public awareness are forcing city planners to examine nonpoint source pollution issues more closely. “This workshop is so timely,” said Cindy Hagley, environmental quality specialist for Minnesota Sea Grant. “Since Duluth and other communities in the western end of Lake Superior are developing comprehensive plans, city officials are open to information that will help them balance land use and water quality for smart community growth.”

Photo of NEMO national team member, Jim Gibbons explaining watershed planning.

NEMO national team member, Jim Gibbons explains watershed planning.

“It’s a communication issue,” agreed Sue O’Halloran, water resource specialist for the University of Wisconsin Extension. “The language of community planners and resource managers is very different but they need to work together. For example, one of the main nonpoint issues we are dealing with is erosion of red clay soils, and there are some basic principles that could be incorporated into land-use plans that would help to reduce this problem.”

The NEMO workshop symbolizes a burgeoning awareness that “smart growth” requires informed, motivated people. “The watershed planning approach and examples of how it was implemented in Connecticut will help us shape the watershed planning program we hope to co-create,” said Julie McDonnell, pollution control specialist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. “Natural resource professionals want to incorporate an understanding of impervious surfaces and habitat fragmentation into community design and planners want to create a visually-appealing and environmentally-friendly city.”

NEMO promotes data-layering through Geographic Information System (GIS) technology to visualize landscape scenarios. With an ability to visualize and understand how particular development plans could affect water quality, civil engineers and local officials can consider environmental, aesthetic, and economic issues in their plans for community growth. “Ideas about controlling runoff from this workshop will help as we continue to revise our zoning ordinance and rewrite the county’s sanitary code,” said Mike Furtak, assistant zoning administrator in Bayfield County, WI. “Managing property development around lakes is a huge water quality issue,” added Karl Koller, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources fisheries specialist from Grand Rapids, MN.

The intent of the workshop and the hope of its collaborators was to leave attendees with the words, technology, and motivation to catch the attention of municipal officials and demonstrate that good planning will allow communities to preserve water quality and accommodate economic growth. The NEMO workshop was sponsored by the University of Wisconsin Extension, the Minnesota Sea Grant, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and a grant from the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. Like many sequels, another script is already being drafted. “We should know by this summer if we have the funding for a NEMO coordinator for the western end of Lake Superior,” said McDonnell. The coordinator would assist communities as they develop and integrate water quality concepts into their comprehensive plans.

By Sharon Moen
April 2001

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