Recognizing the Critical Link Between Land Use and Water Quality

Recognizing the Critical Link Between Land Use and Water Quality

Land development significantly impacts water quality and aquatic habitats in the Lake Erie basin. Recognizing the critical link between land use and water quality, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission appointed a Balanced Growth Task Force to make recommendations about the protection and restoration of Lake Erie and its watersheds, and to assure long-term economic competitiveness, ecological health, and quality of life.

After two years of discussion and research, the Task Force recommended that the state provide a voluntary, incentive-based program for balanced growth in the Lake Erie basin. The planning framework includes:

  • A new focus on land use and development planning in the major river tributary watersheds of Lake Erie with a goal of linking land-use planning to the health of watersheds and the Lake.
  • The creation of Watershed Planning Partnerships (WPP)
  • The locally determined designation of Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) to protect critically important ecological, recreational, agricultural, heritage, public access, and other critical areas, and Priority Development Areas (PDAs) where growth and/or redevelopment should be supported.
  • The development of suggested model regulations to help promote best local land use practices that minimize impacts on water quality.
  • The alignment of state policies, incentives, and other resources to support watershed planning and implementation for Balanced Growth.

The recommendations were accepted on April 14, 2004 and can be viewed in detail at:

Now the Balanced Growth Task Force is ready to put their recommendations to the test. They are requesting proposals for pilot projects to develop watershed balanced growth plans and establish Watershed Planning Partnerships. WPP’s must be open, inclusive, and focused on consensus-building in the communities within the project watershed. WPP’s will require diverse stakeholders to work together to create land-use plans that encourage habitat protection and water quality improvement in Lake Erie and its tributaries and development in areas that maximize development potential, increase the efficient use of infrastructure, promote the revitalization of existing cities and towns, and contribute to the restoration of Lake Erie.

The Task Force is making the most of electronic communication through postings on the Lake Erie Commission’s website and e-mails send out about the grant proposal. They are also working with partners like the Ohio Environmental Council and many others to spread the word through their contacts and lists. The goal of this communication blitz is to obtain high quality applicants that can serve as valuable models for balanced growth in the watersheds of Lake Erie.

Priority consideration will be given to locally driven watershed planning partnerships from three diverse watershed types (one each for an urban watershed with significant redevelopment needs, a suburban watershed experiencing fast suburban growth and a rural watershed on the fringe of a suburban area with sufficient time to plan for likely future development). Once the pilot plans are completed, they will be released for public comment and submitted to local governments for acceptance. After a significant majority of the jurisdictions in the watershed have accepted the plan, it will be submitted to the Ohio Lake Erie Commission for acceptance and endorsement. Upon endorsement, State of Ohio agencies will be notified that the Watershed Balanced Growth Plan represents a locally determined plan, and they will be expected to honor its recommendations in making funding and other decisions.

The Balanced Growth Task Force has encouraged the State of Ohio to support implementation of watershed plans by developing a Lake Erie Balanced Growth Strategy that would describe how state programs, policies, and incentives will be aligned with local efforts to focus development efforts in PDAs and promote successful conservation efforts in PCAs. The specific incentives to be offered for implementation of Watershed Balanced Growth Plans are available at and will be expanded throughout the year.

Up to $200,000 will go to each of three projects that test the Balanced Growth Task Force’s planning recommendations. The money, which is provided by the Ohio Water Development Authority, will be distributed over three years and will require no local match. Proposals are due July 1, 2005. For more information about Ohio’s Balanced Growth Program or for information on applying for a pilot watershed grant, please visit the Lake Erie Commission web site at or call 419-245-2514.


US Lake Erie Advisor
Molly Flanagan
Ohio Environmental Council
1207 Grandview Ave., Ste. 201
Columbus, OH 43212-3449
(614) 487-7506
(614) 487-7510 (fax)



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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.