Upstate SC’s 30% conservation goal ambitious

Dean Hybl, Special to the Greenville News
Published 9:40 a.m. ET June 29, 2020

From mountains and waterfalls to lakes, trails and forests, the Upstate is blessed with a natural environment beyond compare. With all the beauty that our region has to offer, it’s no wonder we continue to see rapid population growth that ranks among the highest in the state and Southeast.

In and of itself, population growth is a positive, as it typically also illustrates economic vitality. As we move forward in a time of uncertainty due to the global pandemic, we are fortunate to be in a region where having a strong regional economy and being an attractive place to live should help us withstand short-term challenges.

But with this growth comes a responsibility to create a more effective balance between land use and conservation efforts. More importantly, we must recognize that these goals are not mutually exclusive.

Right now, we are developing land at a rapid rate that is having serious consequences on our environment’s natural ability to control problems like flooding, erosion, and pollution. Greenville County alone is expected to welcome more than 160,000 new residents by 2040. To accommodate this growth, nearly 206,000 acres of open space, forest, and farmland could be converted to strip malls, neighborhoods, and parking lots.

The impacts of this growth will ultimately be determined by our ability to develop and implement a plan that creates a balance and preserves mountains, lakes, parks, farms, and forests, and keeps us healthy. In addition to providing a desired balance between developed land and open spaces, land protection is also the most cost-effective way to protect air and water quality, which has never been more important.

Developing without first incorporating green spaces and tree preservation significantly increases storm water runoff, carrying pollution into streams, rivers, and oceans. It’s estimated that every dollar spent on land protection saves $27 on water treatment costs – keeping our water clean, naturally, without the need for expensive upgrades on infrastructure.

Given the challenges that we face across the state, especially here in the Upstate, we must find ways to better incorporate green infrastructure and restore our rivers, floodplains, wetlands, and other natural areas. Scientists increasingly suggest protecting at least 30% of our land, water, and ocean by 2030 to confront the rapid loss of natural areas and development issues like urban sprawl.

Preserving 30% of our land, water and oceans is an ambitious goal to accomplish in just 10 years, but it is critical for us to undertake it.

To accomplish this, we need more policy tools and resources to help communities meet the needs of a growing population while minimizing the impacts of development.

 Luckily, some South Carolina legislators have taken the first step by filing the…

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