Land Use + Habitat Protection
The way land is used, whether in residential areas, industrial areas, or agricultural and rural areas, impacts the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Development is one of the greatest contributors to pollution in the Bay. Stormwater runoff from developed areas is responsible for nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment pollution. It is critical for the health of the Bay to manage new growth according to sound land use planning principles and protective construction practices. Changing the built environment in a sustainable way involves protecting green spaces. Green spaces create natural buffers that help reduce pollution carried to local waterways and also preserve areas for recreation and animal habitat. Land use issues in the Bay watershed generally involve planning and zoning laws, land conservation, and habitat protection.
Planning and Zoning Laws
Land use planning and zoning law is managed by local municipalities and counties to manage local development of the built environment. Local municipalities typically adopt a comprehensive plan to identify the goals for immediate and long-range growth in the community. Regional development is shaped by how the development plans from each municipality intersect and interact with each other. State and federal laws can preempt local decision-making in the interest of protecting sensitive natural resources, such as the waterways of the Bay. Understanding this legal framework is important because planning and zoning decisions ultimately impact the health of the Bay and the quality of life of residents. There are opportunities for citizens and stakeholders to influence comprehensive plans and land use regulations. Citizens can voice their concerns about development proposals at public hearings before the local planning and zoning boards. Furthermore, citizens can lobby the local or state legislature, which adopts the zoning law and other land use regulations.
Conservation easements can be used to preserve open spaces and rural landscapes for future generations and the health of the Bay. A conservation easement is a legal agreement in which a landowner voluntarily sells or donates the right to develop the property or limits certain uses of the property, usually in exchange for tax benefits. The landowner retains all other private property rights. This legally binding agreement is permanent and passes from one landowner to the next. Conservation easements permanently protect our thriving natural spaces and agricultural lands from further development, thus promoting healthy waterways and natural plant and wildlife habitat.
The Chesapeake Bay’s rivers and streams provide drinking water and recreational use and serve as the engine for local economies. They also provide food, protection, and nesting areas for more than 3,600 species of plants and animals vital to the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the species in the Bay watershed are listed as threatened or endangered, and there are laws that protect these species. Protecting habitat and providing for ecosystem diversity not only benefits the plants and animals that live in the Bay watershed but can also help reduce water pollutants flowing into the Bay. For example, buffer zones around agricultural fields or rain gardens around urban parking lots provide both habitat and reduce sediment and chemicals from flowing directly into the Bay.
Stream Restoration and Shoreline Protection
Protecting stream and river shorelines and restoring damaged waterways plays a critical role in improving water quality. Stream restoration helps to reduce the amount of sediment flowing into the Bay and reduces trash and hazards that may be resent near and in waterways. Shoreline protection is becoming more pressing due to sea level rise and shoreline inundation. Notably, man-made structures, such as bulkheads and hard stream surfaces can accelerate erosion and destroy natural animal and aquatic habitat. Reducing hard surfaces along shorelines through practices like living shorelines can rebuild natural habitat, prevent shoreline erosion, and capture pollutants.