Regional Tool Kit: Environmental Stewardship

Conservation Easements

Landowners may wish to grant conservation easements to protect their property from unwanted development.  Conservation easements are useful tools for landowners to preserve open space while still maintaining ownership of their land. 


Carrying Capacity Limitations

Just as world population is constrained by a limited amount of non-renewable resources, there is also a limited amount of water in a watershed and a limited amount of land on which a community may grow.  Carrying Capacity takes these limits into consideration when evaluating where and how much new development should occur.  Carrying Capacity determines the maximum level of development that can be accommodated while still meeting community-based goals for environmental quality.  The three basic limiting factors are environmental (water quality, ecology, and soil erosion), physical infrastructure (water supply, roads and wastewater treatment) and psychological (how people perceive environmental quality and adequate level of service from infrastructure) (Urban Land Use Planning, 188).

Agriculture Protection Area

As development encroaches on farmland, a once rural way of life becomes increasingly suburban.  Being part of a recognized Agriculture Protection Area can:
•    Protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits
•    Protect farmers from unreasonable restrictions from state and local agencies on farm structures and practices
•    Serve as notice to prospective land buyers that they are purchasing land next to a protected farming operation
•    Protect farmers from changes in zoning designations

This will allow farmers to make necessary capital investments in their farm operations, rather than looking to sell land for the next sub-division or strip-mall development. 


Farmland Preservation Credits

As suburban development encroaches on farmland, property taxes will increase.  The farmland preservation credits attempt to counter these higher taxes for farmers by providing a tax credit as long as farmers are keeping the land in agricultural use.  For example, in the state of Wisconsin, farmers are eligible for an income tax credit, ranging from $5 to $10 per acre in exchange for keeping land in agricultural use and complying with state soil and water conservation requirements.  With 17,000 farmers participating, the program has achieved its goals of preserving farmland and allowing farmers to continue farming their land.

Differential Assessment Programs

Farmers agree not to develop their lands in exchange for significant tax breaks or lower property tax rates.  This allows the farmer to operate farmland no matter how high nearby development pressures and nearby property taxes may be.  Since they are voluntary, today’s excluded lands may be available for development at some point in the future. 

Hazard Mitigation

FEMA publishes flood insurance rate maps under the National Flood Insurance Program that identify the boundaries and probability of flood events.  The degree of severity for different zones within the 100 year floodplain is delineated on the flood hazard maps.  NFIP applies land use and building code regulations associated with each zone.  These maps are utilized to prohibit development in flood zones  (Urban Land Use Planning, 175).

Creative use of non-developable flood-prone land should be used for public parks, natural areas and recreation trails as seen here around Gray’s Lake in Des Moines, IA (APA Great Public Spaces – Gray’s Lake Park).

Urban Forestry Program

 Some of the many benefits of street trees include:          
•    Providing a sense of community
•    Increased property values
•    Reduced road maintenance costs
•    Cooling and energy savings
•    Traffic calming
•    Pedestrian friendly place
•    Air and water quality improvements
•    Storm water management

This is not as simple as planting trees one weekend a year.  A community’s Urban Forest Plan needs to become part of the community’s general plan, stated both as long-range goals and also as policy.  This is needed to gather input from different disciplines; forestry, citizens, planners, parks and rec, utilities, storm-water, etc.   (Envision Utah, Urban Forestry).

Main Street in Downtown Greenville is a national model of how street trees can make a street more inviting for pedestrians (APA Great Streets – Main Street Greenville).

Water Quality Protection Programs

Water Quality Protection Programs identify strategies, policies and procedures for keeping water quality and wastewater treatment and disposal in a geographical area (Development Definitions, 443).  Austin, TX has a water quality program with the stated goals: responding to emergency spills and pollution complaints, educating citizens on ways to prevent pollution, building water quality structural controls to treat contaminated storm water and monitoring lakes, creeks and groundwater to identify problem areas and to help plan effective protection    (

Water Quantity Protection Programs

Dramatic population gains in the Southeast have increased competition and demand for water, which is only compounded during times of drought.  

When the Southeast was in a severe drought in 2007, Atlanta was 90 to 121 days from draining Lake Lanier.  The region has overused its water rights from Lake Lanier and eventually will be looking to tap into the Savannah River system to fuel its growth.   Outside pressures on Lake Hartwell, local development pressures and increasing periods of drought are sure to elevate the importance of water quantity in the Upstate. 

The original bridge crossing for the Seneca River, which has been underwater since the lake was filled in the 1950s, is now coming back out again.  (