Codes and Ordinances to Protect Rivers and Clean Water

Local Codes and Ordinances

Local governments have an important role to evaluate their own codes and ordinances to ensure they are protecting our communities and our waterways. Through Blue Trails, or conservation focused water trails, we can reconnect people to their rivers through outdoor activities and to build support for protecting areas along the river from unwise development by strengthening codes and ordinances.

Codes and ordinances can be developed to protect clean water and healthy rivers in a number of different ways, including green infrastructure and protecting critical riverside lands. Across the country, communities have worked to incorporate low impact development practices into existing zoning code such as integrating rain gardens and bioretention (green infrastructure approaches) into landscaping requirements and removing barriers to using permeable pavement in parking lots. Communities have also worked to protect critical riverside land habitat by implementing tree ordinances to protect riverside trees, restrict redevelopment after timber harvesting, and use natural systems instead of expensive man-made structures to filter and store stormwater, resulting in improved water quality, preserved wildlife habitat, and prevented soil erosion. Other communities have worked to pass an ordinance requiring a 25-foot buffer along the river as part of its Land Use Regulations.

Changing Local Ordinances in Your Community

Most communities have a legislative body elected by the public, such as a city council, county board, or village board, to make changes to existing ordinances or pass new ordinances. In addition to the local legislative body, your community likely has a Planning Commission or similar subcommittee that specializes in land use issues. Although the Planning Commission does not have authority to pass laws, they can give powerful recommendations to the legislative body and once an ordinance is enacted, the Commission is typically given the responsibility of implementing its requirements. Once you become familiar with the structure of your local government, start researching existing zoning codes and building and subdivision regulations to see where opportunity exists to make change.