Central Ohio is growing and showing no signs slowing down. Updated projections are for another 600,000 more residents by 2050, increasing our region’s population to 3 million strong. In fact, Delaware County has been the fastest growing county in the state since the turn of the century. Such a prolonged population boom can fuel economic opportunity and optimism, but it also comes with challenges. They makes FLOW’s work on the Lower Olentangy Greenspace Plan all the more pressing.
A recent milestone in the project was the completion of a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) database of the Lower Olentangy watershed. GIS technology allows us to organize layers of information into a unique visualization of the watershed. This can reveal deeper insights, patterns, and relationships that help us make more informed decisions. In a recent presentation to our partners, Ryan Pilewski, Watershed Resource Specialist with the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District, revealed some first insights from the recently compiled baseline data.
The initial analysis reveals about 20% of the Lower Olentangy watershed is covered by tree canopy, with substantially lower canopy cover in the highly urbanized areas. Research has shown at least 45% stream side forest cover is required for streams to have a healthy rating of “good”, so it’s something to examine if we want to adequately buffer our streams and rivers to ameliorate the impacts of future development.
Meanwhile the entire watershed is 17% covered by impervious surfaces. This represents the sum of roads, parking lots, sidewalks and rooftops that prevent water from infiltrating the surface and thereby increasing storm water runoff. Resulting problems include increased flooding, higher temperatures, sanitary sewer overflows and decreased stream health. With global climate change increasing the frequency of heavy rainfall events in Columbus and an intensifying urban heat island, it could be time to accelerate greener infrastructure options or even consider removing pavement from sensitive areas.
Only about 9% of the lands in the Lower Olentangy watershed have protected status. These lands include parks, trails, open and green spaces, and conservation easements. Ensuring we have adequate green space is of increasing concern amid the backdrop of strong population growth and development pressures. A growing body of scientific evidence confirms measurable human health benefits from green space. And it goes well beyond the need for healthy rivers and clean water. Natural spaces such as parks, urban forests, streams, and trails improve health, reduce stress, and can move the needle on disease prevention. So investing in green space makes us – and our communities – more resilient.
What can we take from these first data insights? The Lower Olentangy Greenspace Plan project was designed as a proactive planning effort to ensure that we have high quality natural space to protect the Olentangy watershed, as well as enough recreational space for healthy human needs. The metrics can illuminate the value of accurately inventorying our existing natural resources, provide a framework to educate our citizens, and be used as a tool for prioritizing future preservation efforts.