Workshops to help northeast Michigan communities protect water quality

Upcoming MSU Extension workshop series will help local officials tackle the challenge of protecting the region’s outstanding water resources.

Northeast Lower Michigan is blessed with outstanding water resources that draw tourists, seasonal and year-round residents. The area’s pristine lakes, streams and wetlands are vital for the region’s economic development.

To help local governments protect those resources, Michigan State University Extension and the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments are sponsoring a two-part workshop series titled Planning and Zoning for Watershed Protection: Tools for Local Officials. One workshop at University Center in Gaylord, Mich., April 24 and May 1, and one at Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., April 25 and May 2.During the series participants will learn about basic planning and zoning practices, water resources in Northeast Michigan and specific techniques for water resource protection.

Effective water resource protection requires a combination of gathering quality data, interpreting information, prioritizing strategies and deciding on the best strategies for your area. Because water resource features and conditions are so variable in Michigan no two communities employ exactly the same strategies. Options include permit coordination, low-impact development, environmental inventories, earth-change regulations, buffer strips, lot impervious surface maximums, and setbacks from water bodies.

Finding low-cost, informative and customized local water resources maps used to be a significant barrier for communities.  Not so anymore. Web-based resources, lower-cost geographic information systems and technology advances are now widely available.

Before a planning commission considers water resource protection strategies, it is critically important that all members have a good understanding of statutory authority, master planning, zoning laws, and how to apply basic zoning techniques.  Part 1 of the workshop series addresses those issues, setting the stage for the more in-depth discussion of specific techniques the following session.

There are excellent sources of information about local officials’ role in water quality protection. The book, Filling the Gaps: Environmental Protection Options for Local Governments, and a soon-to-be-published Saginaw Bay best planning and zoning practices manual will be provided to workshop participants.

The workshops will be offered at two locations: the University Center in Gaylord, Mich., April 24 and May 1, and the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., April 25 and May 2. Thanks to a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the registration fee for the program is only $20 per person.

For more information about this workshop series, contact the Northeast Michigan Council of Governments at 989-705-3730.

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