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UConn brings municipal training program to North Carolina (Released: 5/23/96)

by Renu Sehgal, Office of University Communications.

STORRS, Conn. -- Urban development doesn't have to hurt the environment. Experts at the University of Connecticut have helped municipal officials in several towns understand how they can develop their communities with techniques to reduce the effect on water and land.

Now the Environmental Protection Agency has given UConn a grant to share this successful program with officials at the University of North Carolina.

Chester L. Arnold Jr., a water quality educator for the Cooperative Extension System in Haddam, heads the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program, which makes local officials understand how their development plans affect their environment. The NEMO team turns pictures from geographic information system (GIS) mapping technology into colorful pictorials of a town's natural resources and their degradation. The team has educated several communities on how to develop sites while protecting the environment.

"The success of NEMO is due to the fact that we've taken a very complex topic -- the relationship of land use to water quality -- and, using the wizardry of GIS, condensed it into a simple and understandable message for town officials," Arnold said.

The EPA has given NEMO a $20,000 grant to bring the program to the Unviversity of North Carolina this summer. The NEMO team has received another grant from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection to produce maps via satellite remote sensing for every town in the state. Universities in Michigan, Washington state, Alaska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Gulf Coast have asked Arnold to personally train their staff and create NEMO projects at their schools.

In late May, the NEMO team will host a visitor from Trinidad and Tobago for two weeks. The visitor, a planner from the nation's Ministry of Planning and Development, will learn NEMO's techniques for eventual use in Trinidad as part of a project sponsored by the Organization of American States.

NEMO began in 1991 as an outgrowth of the work that Arnold was doing with the Long Island Sound Study, a federal-state study of pollution in the Sound. His experience overseeing the public outreach of the study convinced him of the need to educate local officials on the links between their land use decisions and water quality problems.

Through GIS, Arnold and his team can show officials exactly what is happening on their land -- how many residential or industrial sites exist and how much space could be developed. The more development and pavement over the ground, the more runoff is created to watersheds. The watersheds then degrade, increasing the pollution of drinking water and aquatic ecosystems.

Arnold has developed maps of the future -- pictures of what could be if natural resources continue to be overlooked in towns and cities. But all is not lost, he said. He is creating a manual so sites can be developed without causing such problems for natural resources, including a suggestion to have non-paved parking lots. The team also is developing ways homeowners can create buffers for the environment.

"Planning and site design that protect water resources are compatible with other quality of life considerations in a community, like reducing air pollution, preserving community character and creating more livable neighborhoods,"Arnold said.

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