One of the three primary goals for the Open Space Master Plan is to identify opportunities and recommend implementation strategies to preserve storm water corridors. Preservation of natural drainage ways is essential for flood control and wildlife, but there are some other benefits that can be captured by planning development strategically in and around these areas.
First and foremost, there are fiscal and economic development benefits for property owners as well as the local governments. Numerous studies and real estate reports are showing that properties that include or abut quality open space are worth an average of 30% more than those that do not have access to open space. Well-designed open space can also reduce the number and size of dry detention basins and underground vaults, and can aid in mitigating pollution in our creeks and streams. Utilizing and enhancing the storm water management capacity within the county’s open spaces and stream corridors can alleviate burdens placed on single site development projects to manage runoff volumes on site, and it can help reduce the size of storm water infrastructure such as culverts and underground pipes, saving cities money in long-term maintenance costs. Regional storm water controls in and adjacent to existing floodplains combined with strategic implementation of green infrastructure approaches such as bioswales helps slow storm water runoff down, reducing erosion impacts and helping to filter out pollutants.Finally, there are recreational and educational benefits that can be captured by providing citizens access to these spaces. When combined together as stacked functions, these types of open spaces can provide tremendous financial and environmental value while also saving cities and taxpayers money over time in reduced maintenance.
Rockwall County and its municipalities have a great opportunity to explore policy options that will protect and preserve the abundance of riparian corridors that meander through all parts of the county. There are seven watersheds within the county, each with varying levels of development and each featuring unique natural and constructed drainage systems. A few of the watersheds fall completely within the jurisdiction of a single city, but the majority of them cross multiple city boundaries and/or unincorporated parts of the county. There are also 27 lakes that are part of the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) system, which are dams that were built in the 1950s and 1970s to assist in flood protection and erosion control, provide water supply to service agriculture use, and to provide fish and wildlife habitat. A few of these are publicly owned, such as Cameron and Phelps Lakes, while others are on private property. These ponds serve as valuable amenities but they were not designed to manage the increased storm water runoff that results from urban and suburban development. Some of the dams are approaching the end of their original design life, and will require maintenance in the near future in order for them to continue to function effectively. The County just authorized funds last month to make maintenance improvements to one of these dams, so this maintenance cycle is already starting. Other counties have also taken advantage of early planning to combine maintenance efforts with trails and other amenities to maximize the benefits for citizens. One example of this is the Adriatica development in McKinney.
Part of our team’s scope for this project is to review the floodplain and storm water management practices of the County and each of the cities, and identify opportunities to coordinate storm water management and green infrastructure implementation strategies throughout the watersheds. The first priority is the preservation and enhancement of existing natural corridors. The second priority is the retrofitting of existing systems that are already impacted by encroaching development with a focus on enhancing these community areas while seeking to improve the environmental performance of the systems. By planning open space strategically and coordinating efforts between developers, the cities, the county, and the various state and federal regulatory agencies, the county can minimize land impacts, save money on maintenance, and enhance property values and quality of life for current and future residents of the county.
Kevin Shepherd is a Rockwall resident and co-founder of VERDUNITY, the consulting firm leading the Open Space Planning effort. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.