3.2
EXPERT CONSULTATION ON THE IMPACT OF URBAN AND URBANIZING DEVELOPMENT
ON GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY
3.2.1
Introduction
Review of SOLEC Indicators of Land Use
G
overnments and organizations have been studying
In this cycle, the Work Group on Parties Implementation
the impacts of urbanization on the natural environ
commissioned a report  by senior undergraduate environ-
ment, and the Great Lakes specifically, since the
mental science students at the University of  Guelph,
1970s (Waller 1981; Marsalek 1991; U.S. EPA 1983). The IJC
Ontario, which assessed the current list of  SOLEC land-use
first looked at urbanization and its impact on the Great Lakes
indicators to determine their simplicity, scope, sensitivity,
through the Pollution from Land-Use Activities Reference
potential for quantification, and availability of specific
Group (PLUARG) process. The PLUARG final report, released
numerical targets. The  following eight indicators were the
in 1978, was definitive in its finding that urbanization is a
focus of this evaluation:
significant contributor to the water quality problems of the
1)
Extent of Hardened Shoreline (ID#8131)
basin (IJC 1978). Since PLUARG, recent studies have contin-
2)
Area, Quality and Protection of Great Lakes Islands
ued to identify urban land-use development as a major
(ID#8129)
source of stress to the Great Lakes ecosystem. In 1996, the
3)
Agriculture (ID#7028)
State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC) high-
4)
Citizen/Community Place-Based Stewardship Activities
lighted this issue in the context of its theme, The Year of the
(ID#3513)
Nearshore, and documented extensive threats from
5)
Green Planning Process (ID#7053)
nonpoint source pollution affecting lakes Michigan, Erie and
6)
Brownfield Redevelopment (ID#7006)
Ontario. SOLEC concluded that growth and development,
7)
Urban Density (ID#7000)
notably urban sprawl, were seriously impacting the region
8)
Mass Transportation (ID#7012)
through land-use changes in the Great Lakes basin.
Although SOLEC proposes to use these indicators to assess
Much has been done in response to the environmental
a broad range of  potential environmental impacts, the
problems associated with urbanization in the Great Lakes
evaluation examined in particular the  utility of the
basin and beyond. Many local, regional and state/provincial
indicators for reporting progress under the Great Lakes
governments have embraced tools such as watershed
Water  Quality Agreement.  The conclusions of this review
planning, urban growth boundaries and conservation design
showed that all of the  proposed SOLEC indicators will
within Areas of Concern and elsewhere.  “Smart Growth”
require refinement before they can be applied in  Great
initiatives, sponsored by a number of U.S. states and
Lakes reporting.  In no case was a clear relationship
Canadian provinces, have accomplished a great deal with
established between  the indicator and any particular
respect to educating decision-makers and the general public
environmental outcome.  No indicator had  proposed
about urban growth and its impacts on environmental
targets established, and in most cases even the definitions
features such as the Great Lakes.
of desired  outcomes or activities were unclear (e.g.
“sustainable  agriculture”; “stewardship activity”).  In some
As more is being done and more is known about the impacts
cases, it was not clear that  any relationship between the
of urbanization on water quality (Novotny 1992; Ellis 1996;
indicator and any environmental outcome even  exists.
Hermann 1997; Pandit 1997), the trend over the past 20 to
Several proposed indicators imply that the existence of a
30 years has been toward even greater urbanization. This
particular  institutional arrangement, such as a manage-
trend is accelerating and is producing profound negative
ment plan, will ensure a beneficial  environmental out-
effects on local aquatic ecosystems throughout North
come.  In fact, such plans may vary widely in nature, extent,
America (U.S. EPA 2000).  In the Great Lakes, urban areas of
and environmental impact, so the simple existence of a
the basin continue to grow and the impact on Great Lakes
plan is not an effective  predictor of water quality, habitat
water quality continues to be an important issue for the
alteration, or any other environmental  condition.  The
region (Pijanowski et al. 2002). Put simply, the IJC needs to
review also suggested that the site-specific nature of many
continue to be active on the urbanization issue, adding to
management practices would make it difficult to develop
the work that is being done by others (e.g. Smart Growth
the kind of broadly- applicable relationships that would be
initiatives) and addressing the specific issues in relation to
necessary to implement these indicators.
the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
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