Watershed Land Use Controls: A Turning Point for Agriculture and Water Quality


This commentary recommends that state and local governments, supported by federal guidance, technical assistance, and funding, create and implement a comprehensive and holistic approach to agricultural natural resource conservation, land use planning, and land management, which incorporates watershed-based land use controls and regulation of the effects of agricultural land use on other critical natural resources, specifically water. The article reviews existing legal tools, including local comprehensive planning; agricultural districts; agricultural protection zoning; cluster zoning; transfer of development rights (TDR) programs; growth management laws; farmland loss mitigation policies; state and local right-to-farm laws; farm viability programs; tax relief credit; and abatement programs. It also discusses the use of relatively new and innovative approaches including Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) provided to support environmentally friendly farming practices and a standardized certification of related farm products. The commentary argues for the enactment and adequate funding of watershed-level conservation districts with land use and zoning authority is essential to address the cumulative environmental effects of modern agricultural land use. These new watershed-level conservation districts should build on the existing framework in place for county-level soil and water conservation districts, as well as the seven decades of voluntary agricultural natural resources conservation and land use planning.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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