The following is a guest post that was written for readers of Glass City Jungle by Katie Swartz, who is a Conservationist with American Rivers. Some of you may remember that the workshop announcement was shared here and I asked Katie if she would be kind enough to be a guest writer, to give those of you who were not able to attend access to this information, so with a huge thank you to Katie for writing this, what follows is her submission that includes links for those of you interested in learning more:
Workshop proves there is local interest in protecting our rivers
Last week, American Rivers hosted a workshop for local officials, watershed coordinators, city and county planners, and concerned residents among others on how to change their local codes and ordinances to reduce the stress on our current aging infrastructure from stormwater runoff caused by heavy rains. This workshop was based on an American Rivers manual called Local Water Policy Innovation: A Road Map for Community Based Stormwater Solutions and was well attended with thirty-six attendees from all over Northwest Ohio and a few from Michigan. It was important to have a regional focus because quite a bit of our pollution comes from upstream municipalities and rural communities. Their positive changes will in turn create positive effects on the river downstream by us. Just to refresh your memory, the Maumee River watershed (the watershed in which you live in) extends all the way past Defiance, Ohio over to Fort Wayne, Indiana and just north into parts of southern Michigan.
The workshop presentation, given by Midwest Environmental Advocates staff attorney Jamie Saul, focused on five topics: local solutions to stormwater pollution, understanding the political landscape, choosing a local regulation or policy, key components of your ordinance, and mobilizing community support. In the section choosing a local regulation or policy, Mr. Saul focused on ten guidelines that will help stormwater managers, planners and zoning administrators efficiently and effectively change the design requirements of new development and retrofits to minimize stormwater pollution. These include reviewing your current zoning code for regulatory barriers and quick improvements, creating and protecting buffers to vital water resources, and requiring the use of low impact development techniques for municipal projects.
After the presentation was over, attendees got together into small groups to analyze current ordinances from local municipalities to discuss ways they can be improved based on the guidelines presented. It was encouraging to hear attendees say “why haven’t we thought of that before” and “it seems like an easy fix.”
Currently, local zoning boards and planning commissions review site plans to assure compliance with existing zoning and municipal code requirements. If these code requirements could be changed to reduce the amount of impervious surfaces (i.e. parking lots, driveways, and rooftops) and encourage alternatives such as rain gardens, permeable pavement, green roofs, etc., we could recharge groundwater naturally and keep the surge of stormwater from entering our aging sewer system, which is breaks often and is too costly to fix.
Over the past year, with the encouragement of American Rivers and Council President Joe McNamara, the City of Toledo has already begun to take a hard look at their current zoning code and subdivision regulations on how to make positive changes. Last April, Toledo City Council passed an ordinance change that removed language that only allowed permeable pavement as overflow parking. Now, engineers will be allowed to design entire parking lots or sidewalks with permeable pavement if they choose to. Another ordinance change that was also passed in April was the use of rain gardens as an allowable landscaping technique.
These are good first steps for the region, but there is always more work to do. Studies on climate change suggest that our rainstorms will come more often and be more intense than ever before. We need to put these policies in place before the next big one hits.