Watershed’s use, future discussed by officials

Monday, April 23, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:33 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Bonne Femme watershed is valuable land for different reasons.

It is valuable for its natural beauty and the ecological diversity, including miles of interconnecting caves that are the only known habitat for one species — the pink planaria.

If you go

  • Where: Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church, 5350 E. Bonne Femme Church Road, off U.S. 63 South
  • When: 7 to 9 p.m. today

The 93-square-mile area is valuable for development as the cities of Columbia and Ashland continue to grow and need new space for housing and businesses.

And the land that extends from Columbia to Ashland is valuable for farmers who make use of it for their livelihood and for people who have their home in the watershed.

John Blakemore moved into his house in the watershed in 1989 and has watched Clear Creek slowly widen and eat away at his property, he said. Areas where he once stepped across are now 20 feet wide. Roots that were once hidden by the soil have been undercut by erosion. Blakemore said a small two-inch rain brings a lot more water through the stream than it used to.

In 1997 or 1998 he had the stream banks lined with stone with help from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to prevent further erosion, he said. But the stream washed away the stones — about the size of old-fashioned telephones — in several places.

Development is not entirely to blame for the changes in Clear Creek, Blakemore said.

Terry Freuh, a watershed conservationist overseeing the Bonne Femme Watershed Project, agrees, but he said that development is likely an important factor.

When the amount of impervious surfaces such as concrete, asphalt and roof tops increases, less water soaks into the ground during a rain storm. This increases how fast and how much storm water run-off reaches the stream.

The Bonne Femme Watershed Project members have been working to address conservation and development issues in the area. Under the supervision of the project, a plan has been developed by a stakeholder committee that represents the three main interest groups: environmentalists, developers and landowners.

After 2½ years of work, a draft of the plan is being presented to the public for comments today.

The next step of the process is to take the plan and public comments to the Columbia City Council, Ashland Board of Aldermen and the Boone County Commission for review. The project’s members understood that there must be political support for the recommendations before any action will occur, the foreword to the plan states. The Bonne Femme watershed policy committee was formed to advise the stakeholder committee, and it included members from both the cities and Boone County’s policymaking boards.

“Unless you have a plan, things just happen, and that’s not necessarily good,” said Barbara Hoppe, Sixth Ward councilwoman.

Hoppe is also a member of the policy committee and expects that the council will look over the plan sometime in the future, but she couldn’t say when.

She said the watershed needs a plan to make sure development in the area is done well and doesn’t harm the environment. She added that the recommendations can be implemented by the city and county boards through zoning changes.

As in Columbia, development in Ashland is expanding into the watershed area.

“With 50 new homes each year, the boundaries of the city are starting to spread out,” said John Sutherland, member of the Ashland Board of Aldermen.

He said the board will look at the plan but doesn’t know what the timing will be. He said that public opinion will be important.

“The stakeholders will ask the local governments what they’ve done, which mechanisms are being used and hold the governments’ feet to the fire,” he said.

County Commissioner Karen Miller is also a member of the policy committee.

“We will see what the public comments are,” and see that the County Commission takes them into consideration, she said. “There are a lot of areas that need to be conserved. It is our responsibility to do this.”

The cost of putting the recommendations into practice could be cut in half through a cost-share grant secured by the Bonne Femme Watershed Project. The $320,000 grant expires in June, and less than $20,000 of the money had been used as of early March. Terry Frueh, watershed conservationist with the project, said the group is applying for an extension of the grant and the money would be available for city and county use.

Here are a few goals and recommendations in the plan:

  • Goal: Conserve recharge and karst areas with special protections.
  • Recommendations: Special zoning rules that will apply to areas of greater vulnerability and the use of transfer of development rights that allow landowners to sell development rights to other landowners from outside the watershed.
  • Goal: Boost jobs, retail development, local tax base and local economies.
  • Recommendations: Reduce fees and other expenses paid by commercial developers. Also, “exempt agricultural land from restrictions and stream buffers to maintain and enhance maximum economic opportunity for farmers and related agricultural activities, as well as to keep land in agricultural use.”
  • Goal: Maintain clean water without unnecessarily restricting property rights.
  • Recommendations: Provide detailed design manuals to assist developers and engineers in controlling the quality and quantity of runoff water, and secure sustainable public funding for better maintenance practices.
  • Goal: Encourage low-impact developments to maintain or improve water quality.
  • Recommendations: Start an educational program, and create incentives to encourage low-impact developments.
  • Goal: Ensure that certain areas are given special protection without hindering the economics of urbanization.
  • Recommendations: Sensitive parts of the watershed would fall under specific zoning restrictions that still allow for economic growth.

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