Commission urges binational focus on land use/water quality links

New initiatives, web site to assist officials at all levels of government

Ann Arbor, Mich. — The continuing urbanization of the Great Lakes region, particularly in coastal areas and along major tributaries, suggests the need for a major, binational investigation of land use trends, impacts and prospective policy responses, according to the Great Lakes Commission.

“The links between land use and water quality are increasingly apparent, but merit further documentation,” said Dr. Michael J. Donahue, president/CEO of the Great Lakes Commission. “If we are to resolve our water quality problems, we can’t just focus on the lakes themselves; we also need to turn around and look inland.”

Donahue noted that unsound land management practices have resulted in decreased permeability of land, increased storm water runoff, heightened nonpoint source pollution problems, and loss of prime farmland, all of which contribute to water quality problems. Environmental and economic inefficiencies associated with urban and suburban sprawl are additional considerations.

A state/provincial agency with basin planning and policy responsibilities, the Commission has documented the accelerating loss of farmland and open space in the basin, as well as unsustainable land use practices that contribute to nonpoint source pollution, alteration of natural flow regimes, and associated ecological and economic problems. By unanimous vote at its recent Annual Meeting, the Commission membership called for a major binational study, noting that land use decisions and practices “influence water quality and ecosystem health as well as economic prosperity” at the subwatershed and basinwide levels.

“The planning and the promotion of sustainable land-use practices has been a Great Lakes Commission priority in recent years,” said Victoria Pebbles, project manager. “The Commission and its partners have pioneered efforts to tie brownfields redevelopment and greenfields preservation strategies together to realize environmental, economic and quality-of-life benefits.”

A policy roundtable on the topic was held in Michigan earlier this year, yielding the “top ten” actions that public officials and private sector partners can undertake to advance these strategies. Thanks to support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters and Great Lakes National Program Office, similar roundtables will be conducted in other Great Lakes states in the coming months.

The Great Lakes Commission has also recently received a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office to conduct a major Great Lakes nonpoint source conference in early 2004. Nonpoint source pollution refers to contaminants that cannot be traced to a single, identifiable source such as a discharge pipe or smokestack; it includes airborne pollutants and those that enter water bodies from urban and agricultural runoff.

The conference will mark the 25th annniversary of the International Joint Commission’s seminal study on land use and water quality, known as the PLUARG (Pollution from Land Use Activities Reference Group) report. In addition to exploring progress and issues associated with land use and water quality under the Canada–United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the conference will help lay the groundwork for a major binational investigation of land use trends, impacts and prospective policy responses.

Mayors, state and provincial officials, and other interested parties now have instant access to information on best management practices for land use, thanks to a new Great Lakes Commission web site ( The home page links to current land use news from around the Great Lakes region. The site also has four main topic areas (i.e., brownfields, greenfields, smart growth, planning) and features a library. Designed for ease of navigation and continuously updated, it will be of particular interest to mayors and other municipal officals with land-use planning and management leadership responsibilities.

For immediate release: October 16, 2003
Contact: Victoria Pebbles,, office: 734-971-9135


The Great Lakes Commission, chaired by Samuel W. Speck (Ohio), is a nonpartisan, binational compact agency created by state and U.S. federal law and dedicated to promoting a strong economy, healthy environment and high quality of life for the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence region and its residents. The Commission consists of state legislators, agency officials, and governors’ appointees from its eight member states.Associate membership for Ontario and Québec was established through the signing of a “Declaration of Partnership.” The Commission maintains a formal Observer programinvolving U.S. and Canadian federal agencies, tribal authorities, binational agencies and other regional interests. The Commission offices are located in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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