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Rural Planning on a Watershed Basis

June 12, 2009 by Antibiotic cephalexin 

Rural planning begins with soil and water because agriculture begins with soil and water. From there, agriculture moves to commercial production of plants, animals or both.

In short, government rural planning must start with the management of natural resources and move directly to economics. For soils this is relatively easy because they are not moved from one location to another. They can be abused or improved, but except for localized construction and some commercial sales, they do not change much in time or space.

Water is a completely different story. As a fluid, it moves into an area and then out of that area. In the natural world, water normally arrives as rain, hail or snow, hits the ground and either soaks into the soil, runs off the area where it fell or evaporates back into the air. Except for evaporation, the water moves down, under the influence of gravity, to a collection point either by surface movement through streams or by underground flow through soils and broken rock. The subsurface water eventually moves into a stream from soil, unless it is trapped in the soil by a low point in the underground rock.

Streams begin from springs or seeps where the water flows out of the ground, and they are also fed by more water draining out of the soil along the stream beds. And streams are the receiving point for surface runoff from storms. The area of land from which all water drains to a common stream is called a watershed. It has finite boundaries, and the limits of water availability in that watershed depend on how much rain, snow and hail it gets and how the water moves on and in the soils of that area. Harford County has several watersheds and each of them ultimately drains into the Chesapeake Bay.

Ideally, the residents and enterprises of a watershed use the water in the watershed and, for the most part, return the water back to the watershed. Wise government planning always takes the availability of water into consideration, and limits growth in that watershed using water availability as one of the management considerations. If this does not happen, the need for water exceeds its availability, and water must be imported from outside of the watershed. Unfortunately, when government manages one watershed poorly and is faced with a need to acquire more water for it, the water is sought from other watersheds where it may not yet be used to full capacity. When this happens, the population of one watershed is allowed to limit or even destroy the future of residents in another watershed by taking the water from that other watershed. This is the basis of much of the legal issues and difficulties associated with water rights and water availability in portions of the western United States. Poor planning has allowed certain areas to grow well beyond their ability to survive on water in their watershed. Consequently water is essentially “mined” from other areas to meet the needs of the overloaded location. The use of water outside of the watershed from which it is taken is called “consumptive use.” Good water use planning makes every effort to prevent, avoid or limit consumptive use of water.

Good rural planning needs to be based upon watersheds as the unit of concern. The agricultural enterprises depend solely on the availability of water in that watershed. People living in a rural watershed normally are totally dependent upon the availability of water in that watershed. Why? Because usually there is no system for delivering water from anywhere else to the individual users in a rural watershed. The home in the rural watershed normally gets its water from a well on that property. The home is not connected to any other source of water. There is no municipal, county or regional link that can find and deliver water directly to that home. The same thing is true for the agricultural enterprises. It is one reason why droughts can be financial disasters to farmers. No water available in the watershed means no water for crops. The availability of water arriving naturally in a watershed is subject to the cycles of nature. There will be times when water is plentiful and times when it is not. The enterprises and residences in that watershed must deal with that as a part of life within the watershed. Government planning must recognize this dynamic and respect it. If a reliable surplus of water can be found within a watershed, it must be recognized that the surplus is the future of that watershed, not a “discovery” to be consumptively used to make up for poor or irresponsible planning somewhere else.

In the proposed revision of the Harford County Zoning Code is a new and much needed beginning to protect certain communal water supplies within the county. Watershed based planning needs to be added to the Code, and applied to every watershed in the County. As a minimum, it must be applied to the rural areas of the county. Language has been suggested to the County Council that would define and permit the use of watersheds in Harford County as a basis for planning.

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