Sunday, January 30, 2011

Protecting stream corridors a major goal for many reasons

Finally, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, is poised to pass an ordinance to protect our streams from erosion and pollution of many kinds, but the emphasis is on a meeting EPA regulations for certain pollutants.
The ordinance, if enforced fully and if property owners and future developers buy into it and understand it, will contribute to several goals of the city.
For instance, the council last year passed a resolution supporting the Environmental Action Committee's effort to qualify Fayetteville as a wildlife-habitat community. The idea is to provide native plants (native grass, native shrubs, native forbs or wildflowers and native trees) to provide not only food for birds and insects and mammals but also for amphibians and reptiles and fish and crustaceans and the tiny forms of life in streams at the base of the food chain.
Protecting trees that keep the stream shady means the water will be cool in summer and warmer in winter, which sometimes means less time frozen and more time providing water for wildlife.
The caterpillars of our butterflies rely on native species exclusively. And there are insects, particularly beetles, bees and others that rely on dying trees, dead trees, and hollow trees and scattered dead wood at all stages of decay. And many birds, large and small, depend on cavities in trees for nesting sites. The reasons to protect land along the streams from clearing and mowing and soil disruption are seemingly endless.
One WEAKNESS of the current version of the proposed ordinance is that property owners are only discouraged but not forbidden to use pesticides and herbicides in the protected area.
An excellent story in Sunday's Northwest Arkansas cites examples of similar streamside  or riparian-zone ordinances in three cities. Columbia, Missouri's ordinance addresses the use of chemicals and other protections.
"Under Columbia’s ordinance, which only focuses on new development, distinctions are made by whether a waterway is a perennial stream, a non-perennial stream or a “natural channel.” According to (an official in Columbia), the widest buffer is 100 feet, with inner and outer zones. Within the 50-foot inner zone, activities such as pesticides and vehicle storage and livestock housing are strictly prohibited. “People really just need to leave it alone,” he said. In the outer zone, only vegetation removal, soil disturbances and filling or dumping are prohibited." Columbia's riparian-zone ordinance was enacted in 2007.
Lenexa, Kansas, adopted its "stream setback ordinance" in 2002 after officials recognized that the city was wasting public money trying to repair watershed damage done by developers building near streams. Lenexa's buffers vary from 50 to 150 feet and may be widened if the property is in a flood plain or on a steep slope, the Times reports. Lenexa also uses retention ponds, bioswales and wetland to control stormwater and prevent erosion.
A second WEAKNESS in the current version of Fayetteville's streamside ordinance is that the basic buffer is only 50 feet with the strictest rules applying only within 25 feet of the stream bank.
Alpharetta, Georgia, in the Atlanta area, passed an ordinance matching a 2006 model ordinance created by the North Georgia Water Planning District., the Times reports. Allpharetta's ordinance prohibits removing vegetation, installikng septic tanks and building certain types of fences within 100 feet of streams that run year-round and within 50 fee of streams that are dry for much of the year.
A weakness in that kind of arbitrary rule is that some streams in karst areas such as Fayetteville  show no or little surface water because they are losing streams, where the bedrock allows water to go underground in dry times but actually can become dangerous, wide, raging torrents overflowing their banks during heavy rain. Any nearby structure may well be destroyed and property damage may be huge.
Of particular concern to many people is that the planting of ONLY native species in the riparian zones is NOT a requirement of the current version of Fayetteville's proposed ordinance. That was a part of the initial version. The effort to utilize only native species is growing and its importance cannot be exaggerated.
For several years, Fayetteville's long-term plan has included a connected, city-wide green infrastructure. And nothing is more important than stream corridors for that purpose.

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