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Mechanisms for Watershed Protection
(page 2)

Urban land

The Baugo Creek, Elkhart River and Juday Creek Subwatersheds (dark orange in map) scored highest for implementation of conservation measures and BMPs. This is due to the developed nature (urbanized and agriculture) of the area, the presence of impaired water bodies and county-level agricultural statistics and population data. These scores are primarily based on land cover data, and not on field-scale characteristics of the subwatershed units.
The Juday Creek Subwatershed overlaps the South Bend/Mishawaka urban area. These cities are experiencing rapid suburban growth which spans the two cities, especially along the Grape Road and Main Street corridors. Juday Creek scored high for mitigation, however the scoring does not take into account the socio-economic factors at play in this watershed. Firstly, Juday Creek flows through the Notre Dame campus and is, consequently, one of the most studied creeks in Indiana. The university's golf course was redesigned to incorporate trees to shade parts of the creek. Biological studies have also been performed on the areas along the golf courses to assess restoration projects.

In the Watershed…

The Riverfront Park in Niles, MI provides recreational access to the St. Joseph River, which includes a 5-mile hiking trail and a boat launch.

Further, the Juday Creek Task Force is active in protecting the creek from the impacts of new development. This includes requirements for infiltration of stormwater and riparian setbacks. The drain code in St. Joseph County (IN) also plays a large role in the protection of Juday Creek. In this and some other Indiana counties, property taxes assessed by the drain surveyor are kept within the watershed they were collected. Therefore, watersheds with a large amount of development and high property values also have more funds for drain projects. This allows funds to offset the impacts of development. Conversely, in Elkhart County, for example, drain funds are placed in a county-wide pool. This however, can benefit watersheds with a low tax base needing improvements.

Ordinances regulating the quantity and quality of stormwater can be implemented in urban areas to protect water quality. In Dane County, WI a ban on phosphorus containing fertilizer is being explored to protect sensitive lakes. In 2002, the State of Minnesota passed a bill to allow counties to locally ban phosphorus fertilizers on lawns. In April 2004, The Minnesota House of Representatives voted to make a state-wide mandatory ban. At the time of this writing, the Senate vote was pending.

Stormwater utility fees are being used in some communities to fund improvement projects. The fees treat the storm sewer system as a utility provided by the municipality, similar to water and sanitary sewer utilities. Fees are paid by users, i.e., property owners, and are based on the level of use. Fees are determined by property size and amount of impervious surface. Reductions in fees can be sought through the use of measures to reduce runoff, such as use of pervious pavement and rain barrels. To distinguish a user fee from a tax, it must meet certain criteria. It must primarily benefit the user of the utility and not the general public. It must be voluntary, that is, the fee payer must be able to choose to not use the utility. It must be proportional to the service actually used. It must be used for the municipality to meet a regulatory requirement and not for generating revenue.

Michigan law has allowed stormwater utilities since 1990. However, a 1999 Michigan Supreme Court decision in Bolt v. City of Lansing disallowed stormwater utility fees issued by the city to fund separation of combined sewers. Therefore, municipalities wishing to use a storm sewer utility fee must meet the issues raised by Bolt v. Lansing.

(The "Authority for Local Stormwater Fees in Indiana" link in the attached table provides guidance to Indiana municipalities wishing to explore stormwater fees.)

Post-construction ordinances identify the maintenance practices needed to maintain stormwater utilities. These practices may include street sweeping, cleaning of catch basins and pervious surfaces, visual inspections, monitoring of outflow of retention basins, limits on the use of deicing materials and education of residents regarding stormwater issues. Other suggestions include requiring all general purpose floor drains to be connected to the sanitary sewer.

Ordinances are also used to protect water bodies from streambank degradation and overland runoff. Riparian setback rules exclude development in riparian areas. They typically specify a distance (e.g., 100 feet) from the shorelines and streambanks in which development cannot occur. The ordinances can also specify that native vegetation be maintained in riparian areas to provide habitat and shade the water. Buffer ordinances may also include protection of steep slopes, floodplains and adjacent wetlands. A process for recording the location of the buffer in legal documents (e.g., land deeds) and the authority who will maintain the buffer should also be included in the ordinance. Buffers can also be labeled in the field with signs, so that their location is delineated and their importance is communicated.

In the Watershed…

The City of South Bend is conducting a river use survey to assess residents' use of the St. Joseph River and willingness to pay to protect it. The results of this survey can help shape public education campaigns and plan water quality improvement projects.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from 12 cities in Indiana and 2 in Michigan impact the water quality of the St. Joseph River.

All Indiana municipalities with CSOs are required to conduct a "Stream Reach Characterization" which assesses the health of the stream flowing through or adjacent to that municipality. The characterization is followed by a "Long Term Plan for Controlling Discharges from CSOs". The regulations also specify that no new combined sewers may be constructed. Therefore, new developments may connect sanitary sewers to existing combined sewer systems. But the stormwater from the development must be handled in another way. Elkhart County and City of Elkhart policies call for stormwater to be retained on-site. However, these policies are currently not ordinances.

USEPA Phase II Stormwater Rules are requiring municipalities and educational institutions in urban areas, as defined by the 2000 U.S. Census, to obtain permits for stormwater discharges. The permit process includes a watershed management plan, education/outreach activities and an illicit connection detection and elimination program.

A Lower St. Joseph River Watershed has been delineated and is the subject of a Watershed Management Plan being developed by the municipalities in Berrien and Cass Counties regulated by the Phase II rules. These municipalities are working together and sharing resources to meet their Phase II obligations.

Ordinances for soil erosion and sedimentation are important to minimize runoff from construction sites. The Phase II Stormwater Rules specify that construction activities that disturb one acre or more of land require a stormwater control permit. Noble County adopted a stormwater drainage and erosion ordinance for disturbances greater than one acre in size prior to the update of the Indiana Rule 5, which previously required permits for projects disturbing over five acres, as required by Phase I Stormwater Rules.

Erosion control plans should be adjusted as site conditions change or as observations during construction identify on-site needs. Various drawings for different stages of development should be used, as different erosion control measures will be needed at different times. Exposed soil should be vegetated as soon as possible. This may follow rough grading, as opposed to waiting for the whole project to be completed. In areas with storm sewers, inlet protection should be used to prevent soils from entering area surface waters. Site access should be restricted to a minimum number of entry/egress points to prevent tracking of sediment off-site. These points should have stones to shake soils off of vehicle tires or tire washing stations. Soil stockpiles should be covered at the end of each workday.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has guidance for small sites. The guidance indicates that placement of site structures should be based on the lot's natural features. Sensitive areas, such as trees, should be protected during construction. A 20- to 30-foot vegetative buffer, mowed no shorter than 4 inches, should be maintained around the perimeter of the site. Stockpiled soils should be temporarily seeded with annual rye or winter wheat immediately following stockpiling.

(Example language for the ordinances described can be found through the Center
for Watershed Protection link in the attached table.)

Total impervious area

Land can also be classified based on the percent of impervious surfaces in a given area. Impervious surfaces are caused by development related items such as roads, buildings, parking, lots and lawns. These surfaces can significantly alter the hydrology of a water body. In the St. Joseph River Watershed, the greatest imperviousness was identified along the river corridor from the mouth upstream to the western side of Elkhart County (dark purple in map). These areas are located in the Cities of St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Niles, South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart.

Zoning ordinances typically identify these urban areas as industrial, commercial and residential (single family, multi-family). However, they also allow the surrounding areas to support these land uses. Transportation infrastructure allows this development to move further and further from urban areas into lands previously used for agriculture or supporting valuable habitat. There are many causes and consequences of sprawl that are extensively studies by land planning experts. A Michigan Sea Grant study (2002) of land use planning in coastal communities indicated that Michigan, as a whole, is following a low-density development pattern which is highly land consumptive. The state has one of the highest ratios of urbanized land per person in the country.

Traditional zoning allows sprawl to continue unchecked. One cause is that watersheds lie in multiple political jurisdictions, each with its own zoning code. For example, the St. Joseph River Watershed includes over 170 townships in both states. In Michigan, land use planning and zoning falls to the authority of each township, some of which lack monetary resources to protect their valuable natural features. In Indiana, land use planning is conducted at the county level, which allows more broad recommendations to be implemented. However, site specific details and needs of constituents can be lost, similarly to watershed planning at the large scale.

In the Watershed…

Fabius Township's Ordinance 95 establishes an Open Space Residential Zoning District in which 50-80% of the development must remain as open space or farmland.

Overlay zoning has been used in many communities to add additional restrictions to traditional zoning areas. This can be used where significant natural features, such as riparian areas and wetlands, have been identified. It can also be used to protect cultural resources such as drinking water or historical features. Overlay zoning based on current imperviousness can also be used. This targets specific types of development to areas already impacted by past and current land uses. For example, areas currently having 20% or greater imperviousness, such as inner city areas, are targeted for redevelopment and highly dense development. Abandoned industrial lands (brownfields) should be redeveloped to suitable uses. If commercial land is built in new areas, it should be clustered with shared drives, as opposed to spread into strips.
Lands with low imperviousness should be targeted to only allow future developments at total low density. This does not imply that houses be constructed on large lots, because when the total density is considered, which includes extensive roads, that development pattern can result in more imperviousness. This zoning technique calls for low impact development or conservation development. This can include conserving open spaces, clustering buildings and decreasing paved areas by narrowing road widths, placing sidewalks on only one side of roads, installing shared driveways, relaxing setback standards, using pervious paving and reducing cul de sac radii or installing plantings in the centers (to create a donut shape).

In the Watershed…

Longmeadow, a Planned Unit Development in Niles, MI, combines residential living, commercial development and open space.

These communities may also use incentives or requirements for individual on-site measures, such as rain gardens or rain barrels. The community includes open space to be used as parks, stormwater treatment or habitat. For example, long shallow vegetated depressions can be dug in open areas for stormwater infiltration. During dry weather, they appear to be a part of the landscape. Low impact development saves money for developers through a reduction in the amount of roads, sidewalks and storm sewers, which can amount to ˝ half the cost of the subdivision. The Kalamazoo Metropolitan County Planning Commission Policy Statements (1999) encourages Planned Unit Developments and discourages the development of residential property units in rural areas. A municipality can provide density bonuses to developers who protect open space and keep development away from sensitive areas, which should be preserved as assets to the property.

Protection of the watershed as a whole

Watershed management planning should also include mechanisms to consider and protect the watershed as a whole. Currently, the Indiana portion of the watershed is considered in planning decisions through the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, which was established by the Indiana General Assembly in 1988 (Indiana Code 14-30-3). It includes representation from municipalities and counties within the watershed and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. A formal mechanism within the Michigan portion of the watershed or across the watershed boundaries would be beneficial to the watershed. The watershed also has regional planning commissions, such as MACOG, the Southwest Michigan Commission (Region 4) and the South-Central Michigan Planning Council (Region 3). However, it does not appear that these commissions work together on a watershed basis.

There are examples of multi-state watershed commissions throughout the nation. For one, the Connecticut River Joint Commissions were created in 1989 by combining New Hampshire's Connecticut River Valley Resource Commission, created by legislature in 1987, and Vermont's Connecticut River Watershed Advisory Commission, similarly created in 1988. The role of the commissions is advisory to assure public involvement in the protection of the river and valley.

Some multi-state watersheds, such as Lake Champlaign, have been assigned special designations. Others, like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, have become the focus of divisions of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).

The USEPA has encouraged the use of watershed based NPDES permits to monitor and reduce pollutant loading. These have been done in the context of a TMDL and may have application with the St. Joseph River E. coli TMDL. With these permits, point sources are regulated collectively to meet a maximum load to the river. Watershed based permits have been used for nutrients in the Long Island Sound, CT; the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River, NC; and the Tualatin River, OR. A general stormwater permit is available for all watersheds in the State of Michigan. This process stemmed from the court-mandated cleanup of the Rouge River. The permit is available as an alternative to the traditional six minimum measures permitting option under the Phase II Stormwater Program.

The Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) was established in 1948 to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin. ORSANCO is an interstate commission representing eight states and the federal government. Member states, including IN, IL, KY, NY, OH, PA, VA, WV, entered into a compact to establish the commission.

The Miami Conservancy District was established in 1913 in response to a devastating flood. It is a political subdivision of the State of Ohio that provides flood protection and water resource monitoring for the Great Miami River Watershed in Ohio and Indiana. The State of Ohio has 23 conservancy districts, all organized at the watershed level.

The Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council works to protect watersheds in Northern Michigan. It administers the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund. The Network has a hub in each Great Lakes state which provides information and assistance on issues within the Great Lakes portion of that state. The Fund provides small grants to grassroots organizations to install BMPs and protect local water resources.

Short of a special designation or commission, a permanent watershed coordinator position should be funded to assure continued work to protect the watershed. Funds could come from watershed assessments (as a part of property taxes), membership dues to the Friends organization or grant funding, such as the grant which supported this project.


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