Issues Of The Environment: Setting Priorities For Natural Resources In Washtenaw County

Jun 16, 2021

WCCD Survey Poster
Credit Washtenaw County Conservation District / washtenawcd.org

When it comes to our environment and natural resources, it's important to know how your tax dollars are being spent. Every five years, the Washtenaw County Conservation District (WCCD) gets the public's opinion through an online survey, and the latest is underway. The WCCD's executive director, Megan DeLeeuw, joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss the survey and the impact it can have over the next five years. 


Overview

  • Every five years, the Washtenaw County Conservation District (WCCD) conducts a resource assessment survey to identify natural resource/environmental concerns in Washtenaw County, how residents use WCCD, and how WCCD can best assist residents.
  • This year, WCCD is making a concerted effort to capture a representative sample of the population by sending survey requests to a random selection of 6,000 residents across Washtenaw County.  In addition, the WCCD is continuing to seek feedback from our engaged stakeholder groups, including those who subscribe to the e-newsletter; governmental staff; environmental and partner organizations; and farmers. Since Washtenaw County residents approved a .02 mil, 6-year levy in 2020, the results of this survey will determine tax dollar spending.  The data will be used to inform WCCD’s strategic plan for the next five years and guide the types of programs and assistance offered. 
  • The 2016 Resource Assessment Survey identified Surface and Ground Water Quality as the #1 resource of concern, followed by land use concerns, and then wildlife habitat preservation. Water quality concerns over PFAS and dioxane contamination likely play a role.  
  • Megan DeLeeuw, Executive Director of the Washtenaw County Conservation District, appreciates the input of residents who contribute to plans for the coming five years, and the WCCD strives to focus time and tax dollars on the priorities of the community.


Resource Assessment Survey 

Every five years, the Washtenaw County Conservation District (WCCD) conducts a resource assessment survey to identify natural resource/environmental concerns in Washtenaw County, how residents use WCCD, and how WCCD can best assist residents. Since Washtenaw County residents approved a .02 mil, 6-year levy in 2020, the results of this survey will determine tax dollar spending.  The data will be used to inform WCCD’s strategic plan for the next five years and guide the types of programs and assistance offered. 

This year, WCCD is making a concerted effort to capture a representative sample of the population by sending survey requests to a random selection of 6,000 residents across Washtenaw County. As thanks for completing the survey, respondents can choose to provide their contact information for a chance to win one of ten $100 Visa gift cards. In addition, the WCCD is continuing to seek feedback from our engaged stakeholder groups, including those who subscribe to the e-newsletter; governmental staff; environmental and partner organizations; and farmers.  To maintain an unbiased sample, WCCD asks anyone who might receive multiple invitations to please take the survey only once.  The survey will close on JUNE 30, 2021.

Individual answers will be kept strictly confidential, but aggregate locality (i.e. township, city, and village) level data may be shared with other local government or non-profit partners to inform program development and better serve the residents of Washtenaw County. If a respondent chooses to share an e-mail address or phone number, the WCCD will not sell or give away any for solicitations.

The WCCD is a local unit of government, assisting private landowners, businesses, and others, with management of their natural resources in Washtenaw County. This District is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Information on the Conservation District is available online at www.washtenawcd.org. Please contact the WCCD with any questions at 734-302-8715 or info@washtenawcd.org.

Resource Assessment for Washtenaw County - In order to accomplish the Washtenaw County Conservation District’s mission of educating and assisting the people of the County with the conservation and management of their natural resources, the issues and concerns related to those natural resources need to be identified.  Every five years, the District conducts an assessment for this purpose. The most recent Resource Assessment was completed in 2016. 

2016 Assessment Results

The procedure used includes:

  • Develop a list of stakeholders.
  • Contact stakeholders to gather input on resource issues and concerns.
  • Summarize the information obtained and identify the District’s priority issues for the next five year period.
  • Up date the District’s long-range strategic plan, and prepare annual implementation plans which identify actions the District will take to address the priority issues outlined in the resource assessment

Results of Resource Assessment - Using an online and paper survey, residents, local conservation organizations, township, municipalities, County & State agencies were asked to rank their top three natural resource/environmental issues.

The prioritized major resource issues were: Surface and Ground Water Quality, Land Use, Wildlife and Habitat, Forests and Trees, Energy Use, Solid Waste/Recycling,  Wetlands, and Air Quality.  Each issue is briefly described below.

Surface and Ground Water Quality - The quality of our surface and ground water is affected by many factors, including point and non-point sources of contamination. Soil erosion and sedimentation, fertilizer and pesticide use, road runoff, septic systems and other sources all impact water quality. Surface and groundwater in Washtenaw County is used for drinking, recreational and aesthetic purposes. Maintaining good water quality is vital to the health and quality of life in the County.

Land Use - Land is a basic resource.  Wise land use planning, whether for agriculture, urban/residential, commercial/industrial, recreation or other uses, is critical. Unplanned development creates urban sprawl and fragmentation that is not conducive to the best use of the land resource. The loss of agricultural land to urban use is a concern, as is the need for wiser planning of development for the optimum use of the land resource.

Wildlife and Habitat - The presence of wildlife in Washtenaw County is an asset that is enjoyed by many residents, but also poses negative impacts when that wildlife damages agricultural crops and livestock, causes traffic accidents, or is displaced from natural habitat by man’s activities and developments. Destruction of habitat for wildlife by land fragmentation and development increases the conflicts between man and wildlife that are becoming more commonplace. There are limited wildlife management efforts on private lands and public properties in the County making only minimal impact in these conflicts.

Forests and Trees - The rural forests and woodlands of Washtenaw County contain a range of high to low quality hardwood species, with many woodlands having had limited forest management. Also, because of a high percentage of urbanized land, the County has a large urban forest resource that also has not had consistent management. Both of these forest resources have been severely impacted by a number of invasive insect and plant species, and diseases that kill or stress trees severely.

Energy Use - Energy is various forms is used to heat, cool and light our homes and businesses, and fuel our vehicles. The impacts on the environment from the exploration, processing and distribution of current energy sources such as coal and oil, as well as alternative sources such as wind or solar, must be balanced with the costs of those sources, and the cost to the consumer.

Solid Waste/Recycling - Waste created by human activity in large part ends up in landfills. That solid waste and how it is managed can have serious impacts on ground and surface waters in addition to finding the space to store this waste. Recycling is a primary method to reduce the waste stream and has been embraced by Washtenaw County and its residents for many years. However, concerns about recycling services and opportunities has increased in recent years.

Wetlands - Wetlands are important for wildlife habitat, storage of storm water, cleansing of water, and groundwater recharge. The destruction and filling of wetlands for development, sedimentation of wetlands from agricultural and urban land uses, and invasion of invasive plant species seriously impact the ability of wetlands to provide these benefits.

Air Quality - The quality of our air can impact our health, participation in outdoor activities, and the growth and development of trees, plants, and crops. Factors such as emissions from vehicles and industry, smoke and particulate matter from fires, weather conditions, and others can affect air quality.

While each of these resource concerns can be viewed independent of the others, they are all interconnected when looking at natural systems.  So in many cases, concerns related to one issue will also impact others.

Priority Concerns - The priority concerns identified for each major natural resource/environmental issue include:

Major Resource Issue #1: Surface and Ground Water Quality

  1. Groundwater supply protection and management.
  2. Surface water supply protection and management.
  3. Storm water management. 

Major Resource Issue #2: Land Use

  1. Natural areas and open space preservation. (tie)
  2. Better development growth management and zoning. (tie)
  3. Loss of farmland from urban sprawl. 

Major Resource Issue #3: Wildlife and Habitat

  1. Restoration and improvement of habitats.
  2. Invasive plant species control. 
  3. Destruction of wildlife habitat by construction.

Major Resource Issue #4: Forests and Trees

  1. Tree diseases, insects, species decline.
  2. Invasive plant species control.
  3. Woodlots needing management.

Major Resource Issue #5: Energy Use

  1. Energy Conservation. 
  2. More economically viable alternative energy sources.
  3. More exploration and production of current energy sources.

Major Resource Issue #6: Solid Waste/Recycling

  1. Expand recycling options and locations. 
  2. Landfill space and management. 
  3. Encourage/educate public on product reuse. 

Major Resource Issue #7: Wetlands

  1. Preservation of connected natural systems. 
  2. Invasive plant species control.
  3. Loss of wetlands by construction or filling.

Major Resource Issue #8: Air Quality

  1. Health related concerns.  
  2. Vehicular emissions/pollution.
  3. Industrial emissions/pollution. 

Other Survey Responses

Survey respondents also were asked to rate:

  • How familiar they were with the Conservation District and its programs and services.
  • How their natural resource/environmental issues were being addressed by local, County and State conservation/environmental groups, organizations and/or agencies.
  • How would they describe the setting in which they live?
  • What the Conservation District could do to address their priority resource issues in Washtenaw County? (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.washtenawcd.org/resource-assessment.html)

Non-commercial, fact based reporting is made possible by your financial support.  Make your donation to WEMU today to keep your community NPR station thriving.

Like 89.1 WEMU on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu