A Model for Incorporating Water Resources Protection into Local Land Use Decisions

Brian K. Miller, Assistant Director
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program

Robert McCormick, Coordinator
Planning with POWER

Leslie Dorworth, Aquatic Ecology Specialist
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program

Land use, water quality, and natural resource stability are inseparable.  In fact, nonpoint source water pollution, caused by polluted runoff from the land, is the number one water quality problem in the United States.  Efforts to combat this threat are focusing primarily on changing the individual behaviors of land users, but few programs address the impact of land use policies, which are created and enforced at the town, city and county levels.  Ultimately, protection of the nation's water and natural resources will depend upon educating local land use officials about the links between land use and water quality, and providing them with ideas and tools to take action at the local level.

The Planning with POWER (Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources) Project is a statewide educational program that links land use planning with watershed planning at the local level. Planning with POWER is coordinated by Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program (IISG) and Purdue Cooperative Extension Service (CES).  The project capitalizes on two successful, ongoing statewide education and technical assistance projects:  Purdue's Extension Land Use Team. made up of Extension educators who assist local communities on land use planning issues, and the Conservation Partnership composed of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Soil and Water Conservation Division (SWCD), the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Cooperative Extension Service (CES) staff  who assist local communities with watershed planning.

Planning with POWER is a model program demonstrating that education of local officials, supported by scientific technology, can become a catalyst for natural resource protection at the local level.  This program empowers land use decision-makers and citizens to identify water and environmental resources risks their community faces and to develop strategies and policies that will protect these resources while accommodating growth in their community.  New technologies and scientific data are used to identify a community's water and other natural resource assets and to weigh land use change and policy options that will allow for growth but protect vital environmental resources.

Planning with POWER helps decision-makers look holistically at all of a community's environmental assets.  Indicators of urbanization are used in a zoning-based build-out analysis to identify future environmental problem areas and land use planning actions that will reduce the potential for water pollution and natural resourced degradation.  

The Planning with POWER message is simple.  Through a three-tiered strategy of 1) natural resource-based planning, 2) improving site design and using of best management practices, 3)  remediation and maintenance, water and other natural resources can be protected while allowing for compatible economic growth.

Once armed with this knowledge, local officials are better able to incorporate natural resource protection into their everyday decisions.  In addition, water quality concerns become a part of local debates on topics as different as road width and curbing, landscape and neighborhood design, and open space planning.

Examples of decisions local officials face and natural resources protection measures they might employ:

Plan commissions and local land use decision-makers can address water resource protection in comprehensive plans by:

Open space (land without permanent structures) is composed of farm lands, managed green spaces (parks, golf courses, etc.) and wild lands.

Plan commissions and local land use decision-makers can protect natural resources, and the lands that provide them by:

Plan commissions and local land use decision-makers addressing runoff can:

Local officials can promote watershed management protection by:

Local officials can engage citizen participation by:

Collaborative Efforts

Planning with POWER was developed to create an adaptable model for combining Extension Education and high technology to educate the critical target audience-local land use officials. 

Through a number of collaborations with other agencies and organizations, Planning with POWER will be involved in a wide range of education, research and technical assistance projects that continue to test and expand the model in Indiana.

Planning with POWER is coordinated by the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and Purdue Cooperative Extension Service.  The Indiana Department of Environmental Management had provided critical funding needed to initiate this statewide (Planning with POWER) project.  An advisory committee provides direction on the development of this project and includes representatives from the following organizations:  Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service; the Natural Resource Conservation Service; IDNR, Division of Soil Conservation; the Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program; Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM); and Indiana Land Resources Council (ILRC).

Local delivery and assistance provided by the Planning with POWER project is a collaborative effort between the Purdue Extension Land Use Team and the Conservation Partnership composed of CES, NRCS, SWCDs, and IDNR.  Additional funding has been obtained from NOAA Coastal Services Center to do Geographic Information Services (GIS) build-out analysis work on three communities in Indiana.  This analyses will serve as teaching tools and examples for other communities wishing to employ this approach.

Technical Resources

Purdue University scientists are conducting research and developing products that communities can use when making planning decisions that protect natural resources.  Some key projects that provide data and technical resources that can be used by communities that are "Planning with POWER" are detailed below:

Purdue Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering 

Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources 

The Planning with POWER project can help you to:

  1. Evaluate where your community is in the planning process.
  2. Identify the steps needed to incorporate natural resource protection into your community's long-term comprehensive plan.
  3. Connect your community with the appropriate technical and educational resources needed to identify natural resources at risk in your community, evaluate management and policy options that can protect those resources, and select practices needed to balance resource objectives with economic objectives.
  4. Evaluate your community's progress toward natural resource-based planning and protection and identify additional steps that can be taken.

How Your Community Can Start Planning with Power

To learn more about how resources provided by the Planning with POWER project can assist your community, please contact:

Robert McCormick
Fax:  765-496-6026
Email:  [email protected]

Purdue University
1200 Forest Products Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1200

It is the policy of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, David C. Petritz, Director, that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sec, religion, national origin, age, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or disability.  Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer.  This material may be available in alternative formats.

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program is 1 of 30 National Sea Grant College Programs.  Created by Congress in 1966.  Sea Grant combines university, government, business and industry expertise to address coastal and Great Lakes needs.  Funding is provided by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.