Linking land use and Lake Erie

In recent years, scientists have concluded that the biggest threat to the health of Lake Erie is the way land within its watershed is being used and developed. As suburban areas sprawl outward from the cities of northern Ohio, new development is paving over the land with too little regard for habitat and water quality.

To recommend ways that the State of Ohio can foster patterns of growth that will not be so damaging to the lake, the Ohio Lake Erie Commission appointed a Balanced Growth Task Force in 2001. The task force was charged with developing a voluntary, incentive-based program by which the state could promote the protection of the Lake Erie watershed while encouraging continued economic development. EcoCity Cleveland supported this work by providing research and editorial assistance.

Innovative planning framework

Now, after two years of intensive study, the task force is releasing its report. A primary recommendation is the establishment of an innovative planning framework that includes:

  • A new focus on land-use and development planning in the watersheds of major river tributaries flowing into Lake Erie, with a goal to begin linking land-use plans to the health of watersheds.
  • Watershed Planning Partnerships composed of local governments, planning agencies, nonprofit organizations, and other parties in each watershed. Participation in these partnerships would be voluntary but encouraged by state incentives.
  • The locally determined designation of Priority Conservation Areas and Priority Development Areas in each watershed.
  • The development of suggested model ordinances and zoning ordinances/resolutions to help promote development practices that minimize impacts on water quality.
  • The alignment of state policies, incentives, and other resources to support watershed planning and implementation.

These recommendations are significant because they mark the first time that the State of Ohio is thinking seriously about how it can support local land-use planning that takes water quality into account. It is important to note that this initiative is focusing on the location of development in a watershed. In recent years, many communities have made progress in promoting better site design to reduce water quality impacts. But there has been less progress in asking the larger question about whether a particular site is a good place to develop in the context of a watershed.

The Balanced Growth Program seeks to provide a planning framework that will help local communities decide where growth and conservation are most appropriate within each watershed. As the task forces report states, These recommendations will help move Ohio in a new direction in its thinking about growth and development. They will: raise the stewardship of Lake Erie to a higher level; promote new forms of regional cooperation; and help everyone in the state envision how, in the 21st century, the restoration of natural resources will be an essential part of Ohios progress.


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Cuyahoga Bioregion
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EcoCity receives funding for Lake Erie watershed planning

Balanced Growth Task Force report
PDF file (760 KB) or Word doc (299 KB)

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Stormwater retention basin for a new subdivision in Avon Lake: State policymakers are realizing that the ecological health of Lake Erie depends on a better balance of growth in the lake's watershed.



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