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The Potential Role of Local Governments in Watershed Management

November 2002

Citation: 32 ELR 11273

Issue: 11

Author: A. Dan Tarlock

Protecting healthy watersheds and restoring degraded ones is one of this country's major unmet environmental challenges. Because watersheds do not respect political boundaries, effective watershed conservation will require cooperation and coordination among all levels of government, including local units. Watershed conservation is one of the increasingly significant environmental protection roles local governments are playing for a variety of reasons, ranging from choice to coercion. Since the 1970s, many local governments have expanded their traditional land use regulatory programs to include environmental objectives such as impact assessment and the protection of sensitive lands including floodplains, wetlands, and steep slopes. Watershed protection is also a logical extension of the increasing use of habitat conservation plans (HCPs) to comply with Endangered Species Act (ESA) mandates. HCPs have created partnerships among federal and state environmental agencies and local governments to create multi-species habitat reserves to address environmental issues on a larger geographic scale. However, the environmental role of local governments is underdeveloped, compared to their federal and state counterparts, because these units have not been assigned a formal role in the implementation of the two major environmental policies followed in this country, the reduction of exposure to harmful pollutants and the conservation of biodiversity.

Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law. A.B. 1962, LL.B. 1965, Stanford University. This Article was commissioned by Prof. John R. Nolon for presentation at a symposium on local environmental law sponsored by Pace University School of Law and the Environmental Law Institute (ELI). An aircraft mechanical failure prevented my attendance at the conference, and John Turner of ELI graciously both presented the paper and improved it by his keen editorial skills.

[Editors' Note: This Article will be included in New Ground: The Advent of Local Environmental Law (John R. Nolon ed.), a collection of papers to be published by ELI. New Ground will examine local environmental law and its strategic role in shaping an appropriate response to a new generation of environmental and land use challenges. Contributors are distinguished scholars and practitioners who have written casebooks and articles on land use and environmental law, served in federal, state, and local administrations or national bar and planning association committees, or prepared national treatises on the subject. Their papers were presented at a symposium hosted by Pace University School of Law and cosponsored by ELI. The book includes a detailed explanation of this developing field by the editor, the participants' papers, and commentaries. For further information, visit http://www.eli.org or call 1-800-433-5120.]

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