What can we do now? Thinking about land use

The Journal-Standard
Posted May 28, 2010 @ 06:10 PM
Freeport, Ill. —
Rearranging furniture at home or at the office is commonplace. Frequently we change whole spaces in the buildings we use by adding or removing walls. We can restore old buildings until they are better than new.

“Remodeling” land that has been developed is much more difficult than remodeling a building. Once the prairie has been cleared of trees and plowed for cropland, natural areas and/or wetlands covered by expanses of buildings, roads, and parking lots, and large areas planted to turf grass, these changes tend to be permanent. It just seems like a smart thing to do to consider the consequences of how we use the land before we make changes in land use.

Consequences of this sprawling development are serious. Air pollution results from increased traffic. Open space disappears. Wildlife habitat changes. Water quality is threatened when rain runs off from roads and parking lots directly into rivers and streams carrying with it pollutants. The natural flow of rivers and streams and their natural flood plains are altered. Wetlands disappear.

Groundwater recharge is reduced where concrete, asphalt and turf grass are laid over compacted soils. Rain water and snow melt cannot penetrate to recharge underground aquifers and flow quickly to surface water. Not only are persons downstream affected but there is less underground water as a source for drinking water. Groundwater contributes to the flow of water in streams and rivers during times when precipitation is light.

We somehow tend to place less value on land that has little development potential for cropland or buildings. We acknowledge some value in natural lands for recreation and wildlife. It is easy to forget that there is very real value in undeveloped land because of its natural filtering function. Wetlands, for example, act like sponges, absorbing precipitation and runoff and slowly releasing it into the ground. Woodlands and native grasses have similar filtering and absorption effects. Natural flood plains can be left as natural areas to mitigate flooding. Information is from American Rivers website www.americanrivers.org.

Stephenson County, in November 2008, adopted a Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan that is designed to prevent and protect human life from hazards that most affect Stephenson County. One of the stated goals is to “preserve open space, including environmentally sensitive and agriculturally productive areas.” You can read this 165 page document as a PDF file by linking to it from ww.ci.freeport.il.us/departments/communitydevelopment.htm

Where we live, we can support rehabilitating instead of building new. We can look for means to protect woodlands and natural areas, including grasslands, wetlands, grazing lands and other open space. We can encourage the city and county to adopt and implement City and County Land Use Plans. Economic development and conservation of natural resources can walk hand in hand.

Della Moen is an Earth Team Volunteer at NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District. Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org.