Resources and Environment

sky-blue-iconSustainable Resources and a Quality Environment

 

Objective 1 – Conserve and protect natural resources including air, water, and land
Objective 2 – Promote sustainable watershed management policies and practices
Objective 3 – Create productive green assets from underutilized lands and brownfields
Objective 4 – Promote and prioritize investments that protect biodiversity and wildlife habitat

 

Regional Context
Water resources, green spaces, wildlife, and the natural environment do not recognize political boundaries. Because of this, a regional approach to improving our environment and stewarding our rich, natural resources is needed. Protection and sustainability of natural resources involves regional planning and cooperation across state, county, and municipal jurisdictions and among governmental, nonprofit, and for-profit entities.

The objectives of this direction focus on conserving and protecting our natural environment for improved air quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat. The region can be better connected to its environment in multiple ways. The hidden value of our water resources, green spaces, and wildlife can be conserved and protected for environmental, economic, ecological, cultural, aesthetic, health, and recreational benefits. The direction also considers how underutilized land, typically in urbanized areas, can be put back into productive use, either as green space or new development.

infillOver time, the region has developed in a low density pattern. This has led to greater consumption of land, extensive investment in public infrastructure, loss of floodplain land and wetlands, increase in impervious surfaces, and degradation of air and water quality. Reconsidering the way we grow can have a significant impact on critical natural resources. By shifting future development patterns from undeveloped land to developable infill by 20%, loss of farmland, floodplain, aquifer recharge, and other critical ecological areas is reduced significantly, as shown in the chart to the right comparing the “Trend” and “Infill” development scenarios discussed on the Concept Map page.

Not only does a more dense development pattern reduce environmental impacts, but it also reduces transportation costs, improves health, reduces public costs associated with infrastructure, and brings more people closer to infrastructure investments such as greenways, bike lanes, and transit. Revised and improved community, municipal, and regional policies and programs are needed to promote improved methods of planning and resource management to ensure greater protection of natural resources, environmental quality, and balance of built and natural environments.

 

Proposed Outcomes
Addressing the objectives associated with Sustainable Resources and a Quality Environment is expected
to lead to:
• Better guaranteed access to clean, safe drinking water for future generations
• Improved water quality in the region’s rivers, lakes, creeks and ponds
• More adequate and innovative stormwater management that reduces runoff and treats water close to the source
• Reduced point and non-point pollution and contamination
• Increased environmental remediation of contaminated former industrial land to improve water quality, air quality, and wildlife habitat
• Improved air quality and lower emissions
• Preserved rural agricultural and working lands, including eco- and agri-tourism
• Improved preservation, conservation or restoration of sensitive lands including floodprone, habitat for wildlife, viewsheds, or wetlands
• Reduction in waste

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Objective 1 – Conserve and protect natural resources including air, water, and land

6.1.1 Establish a regional groundwater and surface water advisory group to inform decision makers on water quality and sustainability and protection of recharge areas
6.1.2 Communicate the economic benefits of green infrastructure and an ecologically sensitive approach to planning and development
6.1.3 Promote and incentivize the containment of urban expansion into rural areas, based upon a rational assessment of the ecological, social, and economic value of undeveloped areas
6.1.4 Increase tree canopy throughout the region, targeting key gateways, community gathering places, and between incompatible land uses
6.1.5 Assess the feasibility and ecological impact of burying electrical utilities
6.1.6 Revise the fee structure for household waste, recycling, and disposal of yard waste to a volume-based system that incentivizes recycling and composting

hydroOne of the greatest challenges to conserving and protecting natural resources, such as air and water is a lack of awareness of quality, quantity, and how humans impact these resources. In the Mid-South, drinking water comes from an aquifer (shown on the map to the right in solid purple), not a surface water source. As a result, community awareness of groundwater protection is low. Though the region enjoys high quality drinking water, supply of water is not an infinite resource. Degradation of surface water threatens the quality and quantity of groundwater supply. Similarly, a lack of awareness for air quality issues makes addressing sources of air pollution often difficult.

Addressing the green spaces of our region provides a significant impact on air and water quality. From removing invasive, non-native plant species and replanting native species to reducing channelization and re-establishing natural water flow, approaches that honor or restore natural ecology and environment not only improve air and water quality, but regional quality of life as well.

Increasing and protecting tree canopy in the region can have significant impact on air and water quality. Trees absorb precipitation during rain events, reducing the amount of water that hits the ground, enters the storm sewer, or runs off into streams. Trees also absorb air pollutants, improving air quality, and can reduce urban air temperatures.

Finally, better protection of land and critical environmental areas are needed in the region. Low-density development patterns threaten the region’s ability to preserve green space, protect aquifer recharge area, and improve environmental quality. Containing the urbanized area and preserving rural areas in the region should be pursued through exploring opportunities such as transfer of development rights or credits, zoning code updates and revisions, incentives for sustainable agriculture, and growth management policies.

 

Objective 2 – Promote sustainable watershed management policies and practices

6.2.1 Identify and prioritize sensitive areas pertaining to surface and groundwater and promote their protection and improvement
6.2.2 Develop and adopt comprehensive watershed management plans that include community-based approaches for each watershed
6.2.3 Incorporate green infrastructure and low impact development practices into municipal policies and stormwater plans
6.2.4 Review land use codes and remove barriers to low impact development
6.2.5 Protect and restore existing natural wetlands and develop new wetlands in targeted areas
6.2.6 Organize a group to provide advocacy and information to developers, community groups, and individuals about green infrastructure and sustainable water management practices
6.2.7 Develop a guidebook on sustainable lawn care practices such as native plants, proper yard waste disposal, edible landscaping, composting, low chemical use, and small area water detention
6.2.8 Raise public awareness of health advisories warning against use of certain water bodies for activities and designated uses such as fishing and swimming
6.2.9 Prioritize water bodies with health advisories for remediation

A more comprehensive approach to water quality and stormwater management is needed for water conservation and protection. Since the region’s drinking water comes from an underground aquifer, protecting sensitive recharge areas should be prioritized in order to sustain the quality and quantity of drinking water in the region.

In areas throughout the region’s watersheds, appropriate green infrastructure or low impact development (LID) practices should be considered. More efficient treatment of stormwater using LID approaches will improve water quality and acheive additional community benefits.

Along stream corridors, protection and restoration of wetlands and floodplains are critical for flood SD6 Development in Floodplainsprevention, water quality, wildlife habitat, and agriculture. These areas also make up many of the green space corridors on the Concept Map for active and passive recreation and transportation. However, many floodplain areas in the region are developed (in red to the right), which can cause degradation of water quality, stream erosion, and flooding. Areas along Nonconnah Creek and the Wolf River are of particular concern. Nearly 50% of the floodplain in the Horn Lake-Nonconnah watershed is developed, while 41% of the Wolf River floodplain is developed.

LID technologies placed at higher elevations in watersheds, such as rain gardens and bioswales, can provide significant impact on reducing stormwater runoff, improving water quality, and lowering dependence on pipe-and-drain infrastructure to manage stormwater. Integrating a greater amount of green stormwater infrastructure into the region’s watersheds not only reduces need for pipe-and-drain infrastructure and associated public costs, but also reduces flooding, water treatment needs, urban air temperatures, and CO2 emissions, among other benefits.

 

Objective 3 – Create productive green assets from underutilized lands and brownfields

6.3.1 Determine the potential for reusing brownfields and underutilized properties for low impact development, sustainable agriculture, buffer zones, or alternative energy sources
6.3.2 Simplify the acquisition and reuse of abandoned or tax-delinquent property
6.3.3 Develop programs to sensitively reuse brownfields and underutilized property for biofuel and alternative energy production
6.3.4 Identify and promote sites suitable for urban and peri-urban agriculture
6.3.5 Advocate for reduction in impervious surfaces and transforming underutilized parking areas into green infrastructure

Due to disinvestment over time, most prominently seen in the urban core of Memphis, a large number of vacant, underutilized land parcels, brownfields, and grayfields exist in the region. Many of these properties have long been abandoned.

The issue of vacancy ranges from small lots to large commercial spaces with adjoining, impervious parking lots, and also includes several former commercial or industrial sites with real or potential environmental contamination. Redevelopment of these properties presents challenges, and presence of brownfields further complicates these challenges.

Brownfield sites may have multiple contaminants in the soil, water, and air, which have known and unknown health risks. The impact of brownfield sites on a community is not limited to exposure to environmental contaminants. These sites can also act as centers of illegal activities, dumping, and blight.

Addressing brownfield and other underutilized properties will likely have positive impacts on health in
the surrounding communities by simply removing these health risks. Redevelopment of these sites involves assessment, cleaning, and reuse of the site, which can lead to positive health impacts on the surrounding communities. Reusing these sites for productive green assets such as parks, urban farms, or green stormwater infrastructure can create additional benefits for the community and environment.

SD6 Imervious SurfacesReturning vacant sites to green space can reduce levels of imperviousness at the community and regional scales. Areas with highest levels of impervious surface are most vulnerable to flooding, urban heat island effects, and contribute negatively to air and water quality. Target areas of high imperviousness (in red to the right) such as along Poplar Avenue, Lamar Avenue, and Nonconnah Creek should be treated with improvements such as street trees, green stormwater infrastructure, reduced parking, and new parks and open spaces.

Many abandoned sites are also delinquent on taxes. In Shelby County, county government operates a land bank for these properties. Reuse of these properties by governments or acquisition by nonprofit organizations and community groups can provide an avenue for returning sites to productive green assets. This productivity not only has environmental and social benefits, but economic benefits, as well, particularly if sites are put to use for production of alternative energy.

 

Objective 4 – Promote and prioritize investments that protect biodiversity and wildlife habitat

6.4.1 Collect and assess data about wildlife species and habitats and plan ways to protect habitat
6.4.2 Promote land and water management best practices that benefit wildlife, soil quality, forests, and environmental quality
6.4.3 Advocate for cooperative rural land management practices to promote increased wildlife habitat
6.4.4 Promote and demonstrate use of native grasses or plants that provide wildlife habitat in neighborhoods and public areas
6.4.5 Encourage changes in policy and covenants to allow for natural landscaping in existing and new development
6.4.6 Promote increased availability of native plants at stores and nurseries

Biodiversity is an indicator of ecosystem health, and promoting actions that protect ecosystem health are likely to have positive effects on human health. Actions under this objective recognize the role of people as both stewards of the environment as well as organisms that are part of the ecosystems of the Mid-South.

In order to plan for an environment that values both humans and wildlife, many of the land and best practices discussed in this Strategic Direction should be undertaken, from conserving natural resources, improving watershed management practices, to creating productive green assets.

Taking actions such as preserving forest land and wildlife areas, protecting and increasing tree canopy, and utilizing green stormwater infrastructure all contribute to improving wildlife habitat and biodiversity. This is not only beneficial for human health, but creates opportunities for recreation such as wildlife watching.

Encouraging natural landscaping is an effective way of increasing vegetation in areas where people live
and work. This type of landscaping provides benefits that can work with other forms of green infrastructure such as parks and trails to improve population health by encouraging social interaction, physical activity, and environmental quality.

Natural landscaping practices also present an environmentally friendly alternative to common landscaping practices that use non-native plantings and ground cover, chemicals, and fertilizers that have negative ecological and health impacts. However, many policies and covenants affecting homeowners may discourage use of natural landscaping in favor of traditional grass lawns. Changes in policies and covenants may be needed to ensure natural landscaping is permitted and encouraged at a scale that supports biodiversity.

 

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