Losing Ground To Urban Sprawl

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Published on: Sep. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

and eroded soil directly to streams, instead of first filtering it through forest and grassland.

The water runs off at a fast pace instead of soaking into the soil to be released later. Lacking normal seepage from the soil, these altered streams carry less water at "normal" flow, and may even dry up after the rain stops, making them unable to support aquatic life.

Impervious surfaces, warmed by sunshine, also get hotter and stay hotter for longer periods than natural vegetation. Bricks and concrete used in buildings and streets slowly release heat long after sunset, making the downtown areas of cities such as St. Louis and Kansas City, as well as those of smaller cities like Kirksville and West Plains, routinely five to 15 degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside.

In the summer, storm runoff from these hot surfaces increases the overall temperature of nearby streams, lakes and ponds. Temperatures can rise so high that the water has little oxygen-carrying capacity, which can lead to massive fish kills.

A More Natural Balance

We may not be able to stop urban sprawl, but we can counter some of its negative effects. The key is for developers and modern-age settlers to include nature in development plans.

Trees, prairies, and other natural habitats have benefits and values beyond providing places for our wild species to live. Trees provide important protection from storm water runoff, reduce noise and light pollution and lower heating and cooling costs. Natural areas provide recreational opportunities, help clean the water and the air, and improve the quality of life for people.

The presence of natural features has been shown to increase a property's real estate value. It even increases the value of neighboring properties.

When developers take such values into account, natural features can become an important part of the development infrastructure, just like water and electric lines.

Some developers have already taken this track. They leave trees, natural areas and stream buffers. They construct natural footpaths and provide linear parks that wildlife can use as natural corridors when traveling.

Urban sprawl is not just a city issue; it's a statewide issue. Missouri's natural resources are being affected, and it will take many people working together in different ways to make a difference.

Once our natural resources and habitats are destroyed or fragmented, they are gone forever. With some forethought, development and natural resources can coexist.

What can you do to help?

If you are thinking about moving to the country, consider

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