Planning and Community Health Research Center

Clean Water and Air

Providing safe and clean drinking water, natural and recreational waterways, and indoor and outdoor air quality is essential for a healthy environment and healthy people.

Aspects of the land use, transportation, housing, and food systems as well as planning policies and practices significantly impact water and air quality. Urban and agricultural runoff, paved roads and surfaces, stormwater management, municipal water systems, and factories all contribute to the pollution of municipal water supplies.

Land development and transportation patterns as well as agricultural practices, power plants, refineries, chemical plants and other industrial practices contribute to the accumulation of green house gases — such as ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and methane — which affect the health of people and place through illness and climate change.

Planners play an important role in providing clean and safe water and protecting people from illnesses caused by water contamination through:

  • land-use controls that protect source water form potential contamination
  • reduction of impervious surfaces
  • development of landscapes that act as natural filtration systems
  • control of erosion and sedimentation through sustainable land management and agricultural practices
  • development of compact and mixed-used neighborhoods that provide street connectivity, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and public transportation options
  • development and design standards that support healthy building design and indoor air quality

APA's Commitment

APA is fully committed to assisting planners in promoting, improving and protecting air and water quality, while encouraging creative quality land development to promote the health, safety, and welfare for people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, education, and income status. In fulfilling its commitment, APA has produced several resources on the issue of water and air quality.

The most recent example is "Incorporating Health into Comprehensive Planning," an issue of the PAS Memo published in 2008. The inclusion of explicitly stated, health-related objectives and priorities in comprehensive plans provides a legal foundation for the integration of healthy into everyday planning activities. Among other health-related objectives, this publication provides examples from existing comprehensive plans on how to develop clean water and reduce air pollution.

Another example is Integrating Planning and Public Health (PAS Report 539/540), published in 2006, which examines collaborations between planners and public health professionals committed to building healthy communities. Statistics and studies presented in the report highlight ways to improve air and water quality and illustrate the specific tools — including health impact assessments — used in such collaborations. In relation to water quality, the report establishes the connection between nonpoint (stationary) source contaminants and land-use, provides sources about measuring water quality, and highlights contamination preventative measures for use by both citizens and local governments. The report also describes the characteristics of urban form and travel that influence air quality and provides planning measures to mitigate their impact.

Nonpoint Source Pollution (PAS Report 476), published in 1998, describes different ways water may become contaminated and explains the consequences and characteristics of different types of pollution. The report presents four case studies of cities that confronted their pollution problems. Each study illustrates the success awaiting cities and towns embracing pollution control.

Planning Issues for On-site and Decentralized Wastewater Treatment (PAS Report 542), published in 2006, explains how planners can address wastewater treatment to help their communities meet their goals for growth and protect drinking water and other natural resources. The report presents a balanced, insightful, and technically rigorous explanation of how water management systems need to be sited, designed, and managed.

Ecological Riverfront Design (PAS Report 518/519), published in 2004, presents a new vision for the nation's urban riverfronts. The report provides a set of planning and design principles that allow communities to reclaim urban riverfronts in the most ecologically and economically viable manner possible. The report guides planners, mayors, public works and environmental officials, river advocates, and the general public in their search for effective, ecological riverfront design. The report covers key topics related to ecological health and human interaction with rivers and provides a set of essential strategies to help communities achieve more with their riverfront revitalization efforts.