Stream-buffer bill up for final city approval

Clean stream bill faces final city approval
Tuesday, January 2, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:25 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A stream-buffer bill that’s been in the works for four years will be up for final approval by the Columbia City Council tonight, but at least one of the people who drafted the bill believes it’s already out of date.

The bill, which places restrictions on land use and the types of structures and vegetation allowed along streams in the city, is intended to improve water quality, to control flooding and the erosion of banks, to create wildlife habitat and protect aquatic life and to promote recreational stream use. It was crafted by the Columbia-Boone County Stormwater Task Force, which has created a similar set of regulations for Boone County.

Approval by the city and county would bring both into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

“The best thing a city or a county can do is a stream-buffer ordinance, because it solves 10 problems with only one solution,” said Jeff Barrow, a member of the task force and vice chairman of the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission.

Scott Hamilton, an urban conservationist with Show-Me Clean Streams, said the stream-buffer bill is “a great thing that we’ve needed for the last decade.”

The regulations are the product of years of work by the task force, which was formed in 2002 and included representatives of both the city and the county.

“The goal all along of having a joint task force of city/county members was to adopt like ordinances, or as close to like ordinances as applicable for different governances,” said Karen Miller, commissioner for Boone County’s southern district.

Barrow said the bills developed by the task force are based largely on provisions adopted in Topeka, Kan. The task force chose Topeka as a model because it is geographically close, its ordinance narrowly defines streams and its stream buffers are narrow. Because Boone County is largely farmland, both the city and county bills will also address the needs and impacts of agriculture.

One concern Barrow has is that the proposed regulations have become outdated. As the city proposal awaited council action, he said, Independence adopted a better ordinance that might be more applicable to Columbia, given its compliance with Missouri statutes, provisions that differentiate ditches from streams and rules that protect view corridors along streams.

“So for a variety of reasons, I think the one the City Council is looking at now is kind of the equivalent of a black-and-white television compared to a color television,” Barrow said. “It is an outdated ordinance that has been languishing for two years, and the City Council would be wise to throw it out and start over.”

Task force co-chairman Dave Griggs disagrees. “We have the proper foundation to build upon in the future,” he said, adding that the ordinance can be updated and amended over time.

The bill before the council establishes minimum buffer zones for three types of streams: perennial streams (type I), intermittent streams (type II) and streams defined as waterways or natural channels that store and convey stormwater runoff (type III). Buffer zones would be divided into streamside and outer zones; type I streams would have the widest buffers at a combined 100 feet and type III the smallest at a combined 30 feet. Buffers would also vary somewhat according to slope, with steeper slopes generally requiring wider buffers.

In streamside zones, only indigenous vegetation would be allowed. In the outer zones, landowners along type I streams would be limited to indigenous vegetation, while those along type II streams would be allowed to have managed lawns. Landowners along type III streams would be encouraged but not required to preserve or plant indigenous vegetation.

Hamilton recommends not allowing lawns in any outer zones, regardless of stream size.

Lawn chemicals contaminate, and management can lead to increased runoff, he said. Still, he sees no need to completely prohibit landscaping and other forms of management in the outer zones.

“It’s the people’s property after all,” he said. “As long as you have trees on that area, their roots are going to lock into the ground and together form a barrier against erosion and form shading on the stream. As long as that is occurring, there is no problem with keeping the area reasonably maintained.”

Jeanie Pagan, president of the Hinkson Creek Valley Neighborhood Association, said she and some of her neighbors are uncertain about whether to support the ordinance because they’ve yet to gain a complete understanding of what types of land it covers. The proposed ordinance would cover all property within the designated zones except farmland governed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service or any land covered by a state-approved surface mining permit. It would also exempt any property for which a plat has already been approved or any property for which the owner has already applied for or received a building permit.

“There are a lot of variables you have to understand to try to get a feel of how supportive you can be of it,” Pagan said. “I think it is hard for anyone to understand because you’re going to have to determine the type of stream it is, and how far away, and the direction, and you’re also going to have to know the incline.”

Pagan said she’ll attend tonight’s council meeting, which starts at 7 in the City Council chambers at the Daniel Boone City Building, and she’s been handing out information about the bill to her neighbors.

Land uses and structures permitted in streamside zones include roads and bridges, utilities where no practical alternative exists, gravel and stone paths and recreational trails. All those would also be permitted in outer zones, as would hard-surface biking/hiking paths, flood-control structures, utility corridors, managed lawns and landscaped areas.

Hamilton worries about the bill’s provisions for utility corridors along streams, saying it leaves creeks and rivers vulnerable to sewage leaks.

The bill also includes buffer-zone restrictions on the storage and use of hazardous substances, draining fields from on-site sewage disposal, raised septic systems, confined animal feedlots and salvage yards.

The county’s ordinance is still being considered by staff and legal counsel, Miller said. When that review is done, it will come to the county commission for approval.

Along with the ordinance, the council will vote on an amendment that would call for measuring streams from high-water marks or the tops of banks, rather than the center line, Barrow said.

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