Aerial photos such as this one of the York River provide us with an important tool for
visualizing resources and for use in conservation planning. The green swaths
visible at the sides of the marshes are forested buffers integral to supporting
water quality in the river. By maintaining these features we can limit the input
of non-point source pollution into waterways.
The connection between water and land is significant because most human activities that affect water happen on land. One of the greatest challenges society faces today is the management of human activity. As human population expands, protecting water sources and functions becomes increasingly difficult. One of the most effective methods for society to limit impacts on water resources is the creation of legal frameworks to guide development and protect natural landscapes.
|Sen. Edmund Muskie, author
of the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972. It directs the federal government to “restore and maintain the
chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters”. The main
method for addressing this goal is to establish water quality standards (this
is done by the U.S. EPA) and implement water quality monitoring programs to see
if standards are being met. The Act allows
the U.S. EPA to regulate wastewater discharge into rivers and streams. Other
programs originating from the Act support research to address areas where water
quality standards are not met and how to restore these sites. For example,
research and monitoring of the nation’s estuaries is required by the Clean
Water Act. In the same year, the Coastal Zone Management Act established the
National Estuarine Research Reserve System, which
continually monitor water quality around the coast of the
Quite often the most effective legal protections for natural
resources are created and implemented at the municipal level. Land Use
Ordinances are the primary mechanism available to town governments for
preserving ecosystem functions and guiding growth. Used in conjunction
with land use and comprehensive plans, ordinances can allow towns to control
the course of development, and ultimately the quality of natural resources
within their communities. Some examples of these ordinances are:
Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) is a tool that can be used to encourage land conservation in rural areas while directing growth towards traditional town centers. A town may designate certain areas as receiving or “growth” zones. Landowners in sending zones can then transfer the right to develop individual housing units to a developer in a designated growth zone and receive tax benefits for voluntarily giving up the rights to develop their own property. The use of TDR is not widespread due to difficulties that arise including objections from landowners in the designated zones and speculation on the future value of rural land. The Town of
Conservation Subdivision Ordinances can dictate the layout of proposed development to ensure that open space is preserved by clustering houses together. The resulting green spaces provide area for recreational activities and act as buffers between neighboring developments.
Land Use Ordinance Performance Standards can be established by which proposed development can be evaluated for impact to community values. By holding development to these standards towns can preserve aesthetic, natural, and cultural resources.
From broad federal legislation to town ordinances and individual land stewardship, legal protections for water resources can be used to great effect. Ultimately, laws are only as effective as the will to implement and enforce them. With vigilance and vision, humans can ensure that water resources will still be available for generations to come.
For more information on the Clean Water Act visit the EPA.For more on
For more information about Land Use Ordinances visit Beginning With Habitat.