Using Geographic Information Systems to Develop and Analyze Land-Use Policies
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Urbanization has a profound effect on the natural environment. Decisions concerning the transformation of land from a natural to developed state take place almost exclusively on the local level in the United States. While the importance and complexity of land-use decisions are high, the resources available to local government officials are sparse. Incorporating ecological principles (stream quality protection) into local land use decisions is challenging due to the complexity of the problems and significance of the impact on the community. This research explored the use of geographic information systems (GIS) as a tool to clarify land use decisions. The method employed was a case study of the city of San Marcos, Texas where GIS technology was used to create build-out maps of three different watersheds within the city. These build-out maps provide a snapshot of the stream quality in each of the three watersheds when the city reaches build out. Impervious cover is used as the indicator for stream quality. A land-use method was used to estimate and forecast impervious cover levels in each of the three watersheds. Three working hypotheses were developed to predict whether stream quality would be consistent with community expectations under current development policies, a conservation development ordinance, or a restriction on development within the 100-year floodplain. The results indicate that when the city of San Marcos reaches build out, two of the three watersheds analyzed will not meet community expectations for stream quality under current development policies. Results also show that neither of the stream quality protection measures chosen meets community expectations.