Greenbelt Plan aims to preserve Denton County water sources

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The Elm Fork of the Trinity river runs through Denton County, north to south. This section through Lewisville is in the LLELA nature preserve. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

The Greenbelt Plan outlines how Denton County can preserve its aquatic resources and possibly make money doing so.

The Upper Trinity Conservation Trust has constructed a draft of its Greenbelt Plan, which helps communities, residents and developers in Denton County protect its source of drinking water, the local lakes. Comments and questions concerning the plan should be submitted by Sept. 23 to be considered for the final draft.

“We’re asking the residents to become more aware of our precious natural resources, because once they’re stripped away, they’re gone forever,” said Jason Pierce, manager of watershed and contract services. “It costs very little today to preserve and protect them but it certainly will cost a significant amount more later if we have to go back and restore them.”

The group is a 501(c)3 nonprofit land trust. Its sole purpose is to protect riparian areas, or wetlands adjacent to rivers, the forest and grassy areas along creeks and streams. The Greenbelt Plan recognizes area greenbelts and outlines recommendations to protect them for those living on or developing the land.

According to the draft, a greenbelt is land next to aquatic sources such as lakes and streams that has trees, shrubs, wildflowers and the like. Greenbelts provide a buffer to the body of water from adjacent land use. For urban and urbanizing areas, it is a buffer between undeveloped and developed land. For rural areas, they surround land set aside to provide buffers between active pasture and agricultural fields and stream corridors.

“Those riparian areas, if left in their natural condition, function as a filter for water entering our streams and creeks,” Pierce said. “But they also provide structure to prevent erosion… Grass cover our forage areas. Those roots help form a web to keep soil intact.”

Denton, Flower Mound and Lewisville have ordinances in place that were designed to maintain the natural integrity of each city, portions of which include the preservation of greenbelts, the draft states. The ordinances should be used as a reference for the development of environmental ordinances within a municipal jurisdiction, it continues.

Lewisville’s Sustainability Manager Lisa Weaver said the General Development Ordinance regulates all development activity in the city, including preservation of natural drainage areas and greenbelts.

“The GDO contains specific criteria that must be met to control erosion and preserve natural vegetation,” Weaver said. “All development projects must go through a review process with the city, and if the project impacts waters of the state such as rivers, creeks or streams, the project must be reviewed and permitted by the Corps of Engineers.”

Because buildings are constructed in undeveloped areas for incoming populations to live and do business in, protecting the area’s natural assets can be difficult and costly, according to the draft.

“Developers typically question the need and benefits of preserving natural areas, especially along streams, creeks and rivers,” the plan states. “Greenbelts should not be considered an obstacle to development rather as an asset.”

These are potential benefits to preserving greenbelts listed in the plan:

  • Conserve the quality of water entering Denton County’s water supply reservoirs, as the County is rapidly urbanizing
  • Increase the quality of life for Denton County residents
  • Eliminate barriers between different parts of the County and surrounding counties through Greenbelt connections for both people and wildlife
  • Promote natural assets for existing and proposed developments
  • Reconnect Denton County residents to the Elm Fork and its tributaries, which provide a majority of the county’s raw water supply
  • Increase property values
  • Reduce stormwater infrastructure costs by decreasing or delaying runoff and attenuate floodwaters
  • Decrease or delay the need for advanced municipal water supply treatment infrastructure due to the improved water quality entering area waters supply reservoirs
  • Enhance healthy lifestyles for Denton County residents by providing nature-based recreational opportunities, such as hike-and-bike trails
    Increase economic development through environmental and recreational activities
  • Increase environmental knowledge of Denton County by providing nature-based educational opportunities
  • Preserve the cultural, historical and natural landscapes of Denton County
  • Protect vital habitats for native plants and animals

Due to development and impending development, the top five watersheds recognized for immediate greenbelt preservation efforts in chronological ranking are Pecan Creek Lewisville Lake Watershed, Middle Hickory Creek Watershed, Panther Creek Lewisville Lake Watershed, Culp Branch’s Elm Fork Trinity River and Denton Creek’s Grapevine Lake, as determined by the Upper Trinity Conservation Trust.

A watershed is an area of land where water drains to a single point, such as a lake or river, according to the trust’s website. It’s necessary for Denton County, its municipalities and its development communities doing business within the area to reference the identified priority stream segments and watersheds for preservation opportunities, connections to existing greenbelts, and existing and proposed recreation assets, the draft states.

“Protection and preservation of greenbelt corridors within Denton County will require demand from the general public, protection measures specific to greenbelt preservation and funding mechanisms to make the greenbelt corridors become real,” the draft of the Greenbelt Plan states.

Strategies to spread education and awareness the draft outlines include but are not limited to water bill inserts, brochures, awareness campaigns, greenbelt program ambassadors, a greenspace advisory committee, training programs, outings, school education curricula and public speaking engagements.

City staff have reviewed parts of the Greenbelt Plan and found it to be supportive of initiatives they identify as goals in the Lewisville 2025 Plan, Weaver said. The Green Centerpiece and Extending the Green Big Moves of the 2025 plan focus on systematically designed land uses and green infrastructure that will preserve the city’s greenspace, address stormwater issues and protect its water sources.

“As those 2025 initiatives are implemented, opportunities will certainly surface to consider partnerships with the UTCT,” Weaver said.

Another purpose of the trust is to hold conservation easements to preserve and protect greenbelt areas, Pierce said. An easement is an agreement between two parties, in this case a landowner and a land trust. In the agreement, the landowner voluntarily restricts certain uses of the property in perpetuity to protect its natural, productive or cultural features, according to the document.

“Conservation easements are unique to each landowner and property and are written to meet the individual needs of the landowner,” the draft reads. “It allows flexibility for other activities, such as hunting, as long as the conservation values agreed to in the easement are protected.”

Easements don’t have to cover an entire property, depending on the landowner’s preferences. The draft plan says landowners who partake in a conservation easement with the Upper Trinity Conservation Trust are eligible for federal tax incentive.

In December 2015, the U.S. Congress raised the deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement from 30 percent of their income in any year to 50 percent. Congress allows farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100 percent of their income. The federal entity also extended the carry-forward period for a donor to take tax deductions for an easement of this type from five to 15 years.

Other preservation measures listed offered by the plan include the establishment of greenbelt districts, the purchase of development rights, mitigation banking opportunities and in-lieu fee programs.

An example of a program greenbelt districts could be modeled after is Flower Mound’s Cross Timbers Conservation Development District, its principal purpose to preserve the cross-timbers ecosystem and other natural systems using conservation easements and other conservation techniques.

Mitigation banking is an enterprise where a wetland, stream, or other aquatic resource area is restored, established, enhanced, or, in certain circumstances, preserved for the purpose of providing compensation for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources permitted under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The bank may be created when a government agency, corporation, nonprofit or other entity undertakes the restoration activities following a formal agreement with, in this case, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In return for the conservation efforts, landowners can acquire revenue, according to the draft.

Nonprofit and governmental bodies can receive money to restore lands within a jurisdiction with in-lieu fee programs. The programs are similar to mitigation banks in that they sell mitigation credits to permittees whose obligation is to provide compensatory mitigation for impacts to aquatic resources, the draft explains.

Weaver said the best rule of thumb for protecting Lewisville natural areas is to leave no trace, by means of properly disposing of waste and leaving nature where it lie. Personal behavior is always the primary way community members can protect our natural habitats, she said.

“Natural areas in an urban setting are significant to maintaining the ecosystem and ensuring proper drainage when land is disturbed,” Weaver said. “Recognizing that those natural elements were here first and respecting the value they contribute to our quality of life should direct how we interact with nature throughout the community, whether it’s a park, the lake, the river or the stream in our backyard.”

Send questions or comments to Jason Pierce at jpierce@utrwd.com by Sept. 23 to be considered for the final plan.

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