Water and Land Use Planning

Topic Overview

Our land-use decisions can have significant impacts on water quality. Specifically, land-use decisions can lead to more intensive development in our watersheds, which affects water quantity and quality. When development occurs, the resulting alteration of the land leads to changes in the way water flows across the landscape. Impervious surfaces (e.g. driveways, roads, sidewalks, rooftops, etc.) and compacted earth associated with development create a barrier to the infiltration of rainfall and snowmelt. This results in:

  • decreased water quality;
  • increased volume and velocity of runoff;
  • increased frequency and severity of flooding;
  • peak (storm) flows many times greater than in natural basins;
  • loss of natural runoff storage capacity in vegetation, wetland, and soil;
  • reduced groundwater recharge;
  • decreased base flow (the groundwater contribution to stream flow).

To address the impacts of development, waterways should be looked as an interconnected system and the fundamental changes that development brings to the water cycle, stream form and function, aquatic ecology, and water quality should be considered. Incorporating this understanding into local land-use decisions can help to guide appropriate development. Since the late 1980’s, the management of water resources in the United States has shifted towards a watershed approach.  Watersheds are areas of land that drain to a common body of water.  Watershed plans provide a strategy and work plan for achieving water resource goals for a geographically defined watershed.  The watershed planning process uses a series of cooperative, iterative steps to characterize existing conditions, identify and prioritize problems, define management objectives, and develop and implement restoration, protection, and monitoring recommendations. In the Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed, an integrated water resource management (IWRM) framework for watershed planning has been adopted. IWRM is a method for understanding, identifying, and prioritizing actions to restore and protect watersheds, and serves as a tool for putting an array of information from different disciplines together with the goal of making existing water planning, management, and decision-making more rationale, efficient, and equitable.

News and Initiatives

  • Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Plan In 2015, the Pennsylvania Lake Erie Watershed Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (PALE IWRM Plan) was published. The PALE IWRM Plan summarizes existing regulatory, management, and monitoring programs implemented by government agencies at the federal, state, and local level. Several plans developed by various government and non- profit entities are also summarized, providing the results of data collections, studies, and proposals that address water and water-related resources in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie watershed. The PALE IWRM Plan includes an inventory of available data on the natural resources, permitted facilities and discharges, ecological systems, recreation and public access opportunities, and real-time data from Lake Erie buoys and weather stations. A series of maps illustrates the information that was collected and will be viewable as GIS layers, allowing multiple layers of information to be viewed simultaneously. Integrating this information offers a clearer picture of what we know and can be used to make more informed choices and decisions regarding the management of water resources within the Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed.

  • Presque Isle Bay Watershed Plan In 2010, the Presque Isle Bay Watershed Restoration, Protection, and Monitoring Plan (PIB Plan) was published. The PIB Plan provides a framework for action to ensure that the quality and quantity of water and sediment entering Presque Isle Bay will not cause adverse impacts to the ecosystem. The PIB Plan summarizes a comprehensive GIS-based data collection, assessment, and analysis effort; and serves as a living document, providing a model to drive coordinated restoration, protection, and monitoring projects within the watershed.

  • Walnut Creek Watershed Environmental Quality Assessment In 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection published the Walnut Creek Watershed Environmental Quality Assessment Report with the purpose of determining if the environmental conditions in the watershed are supporting public health and safety, economic stability, and quality of life for Erie County residents. A year-long, comprehensive assessment examined: the features and physical characteristics of the watershed; the land and watershed uses; actual and potential pollutants to the watershed; and, efforts in place for resource conservation and environmental stewardship. The Report contributed to the 2008 Walnut Creek Watershed Protection and Restoration Plan that identified priority restoration and protection actions and activities within the watershed.

  • Trout and Godfrey Run Watershed Implementation Plan The Trout and Godfrey Run Watershed Plan identifies sources of pollution, including nutrients, which are affecting attainment of aquatic life uses within the streams. Recommendations are made for methods to reduce the sources of pollution, including identifying key people and organizations that may participate and cost estimates for improvement measures. In addition, load reductions were estimated for the recommended best management practices (BMPs). Taking the load reductions, cost estimate, and participation level of stakeholders, priorities were set for the BMPs and a timeline was developed with milestones and measurable outcomes.

  • Updated Hydrology and Watershed Data Recently, the Pennsylvania Sea Grant College Program collaborated with Woolpert, Inc. to acquire updated hydrology and watershed boundary shapefiles for the Pennsylvania Lake Erie watershed. These data will help improve watershed planning and monitoring efforts in the drainage. The project was funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Program.

  • Land-Use Planning and Development In Pennsylvania, The Municipal Planning Code empowers and delegates land use planning and decisions to local government entities. This includes a process to establish, alter, or remove land use controls through zoning, the creation of county and local comprehensive plans, the creation of an “Official Map”, and several additional tools provided through the Municipal Planning Code. Common land use planning documents for any township or borough include Zoning Ordinances, Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance’s, and a Comprehensive Plan. For questions regarding local zoning or planning considerations for a project at home, please contact your local township office or county planning department.

  • Millcreek Township Ordinance Requires Tree Plantings in Commercial Lots In March 2016, Millcreek Township, Pennsylvania supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance to require tree plantings in commercial parking lots. The ordinance requires at least one tree to be planted in a planting island of 17-feet by 12-feet for every 15 spaces in a parking lot. In addition, the ordinance requires a minimum of 7-percent of parking lots greater than 0.5 acres in size to be and remain pervious.

  • Pennsylvania State Water Plan As a functional planning tool, the Pennsylvania State Water Plan provides residents with a vision, goals, and recommendations for meeting the challenges of sustainable water use in each of the Commonwealth’s major basins over a 15-year planning horizon. PA DEP will undertake review and revisions to the Plan in 2017 and 2018, which will include the reconvening of the Great Lakes Regional Water Resources Advisory Committee to assist in that process.


Water and Land

Title Publication Year Resource Type
PDF icon PALE IWRM Plan (2015).pdf 2015 Plans Manuals
PDF icon Steelhead Fishery Economic Analysis (2004).pdf 2004 Research Reports
PDF icon PIB Watershed WQ Report (2012).pdf 2012 Research Reports
PDF icon PIB Watershed Sediment Report (2012).pdf 2012 Research Reports
PDF icon PIB Watershed Sediment and Habitat (2002).pdf 2002 Research Reports