The National NEMO Network is a collection of outreach programs across the U.S. that educate local (town/city/county) land use decision makers about protecting water quality as communities grow. There are currently NEMO program in 30 states, most led by either University-based Extension and/or Sea Grant programs. Each of these programs is an adaptation of the original NEMO program at the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education & Research.
The NEMO acronym stands for Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials. More specifically:
Nonpoint = nonpoint source pollution
Education = stuff that makes you smarter so you can make better decisions
Municipal Officials = folks in your community who make decisions about how and where land can be developed.
NEMO has come to stand for outreach programs that provide resources that allow for good land use planning and site design that balances growth AND environmental protection. Who wouldn’t support that?
There are 5 key elements to a NEMO program:
- The “Target” Audience is local land use decision makers.
- The Issue is the connection between land use decisions and water quality.
- The Solution offered is natural resource based planning and site design.
- The Approach is unbiased, research-based education – the most effective and efficient way to foster better land use decisions (primarily face to face workshops in town hall supplemented with publications and web resources)
- Geospatial technology is used to help enhance the message and provide context.
According to the U.S. EPA, nonpoint source pollution is the number one water quality problem facing the United States. As rain (stormwater) falls on the developed landscape and runs over the land, it picks up various pollutants along the way, such as sediment (i.e. dirt), fertilizer, oil, trash, etc., and carries those pollutants into our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans. In a natural, undeveloped landscape the rain is absorbed by vegetation and the soil, where many of those pollutants are processed or removed before reaching water bodies.
This runoff is called nonpoint source pollution under the U.S. Clean Water Act to distinguish it from point source pollution or pollutants that enter our waterways through a specific point – such as from a factory or industrial facility. Because it is more dispersed and comes from an accumulation of many sources, nonpoint source pollution is much harder to regulate and address.
In most areas, land use decision makers are volunteers who are elected or appointed to serve on land use planning boards or commissions in their communities. They are responsible for making decisions about where development can happen, what type of development it must be, how it must be built, etc. Examples of land use boards/commissions include: planning, zoning, conservation, and wetlands.
There are typically no knowledge or skill requirements for serving on these boards. As such, members come from all walks of life and may have little or no experience in land use planning, economic development, natural resource protection, public health, or other factors that are involved in making land use decisions.
Everything! As our landscape moves from a natural state to development characterized by pavement, sidewalks and rooftops, the health of our streams, ponds, lakes and other water bodies become degraded. Why? In a natural, undeveloped state, the majority of rainwater is absorbed into the ground. However, in a developed state, the majority of rainwater runs off those impervious roofs and driveways, picking up pollutants along the way and transporting them, via storm drains, directly into our water bodies. So where our communities grow and how we develop land can have a tremendous impact keeping our waters swimmable, drinkable, and fishable.
Luck Isn't Enough: the Fight for Clean Water
Winner of an international film industry award for creative excellence. 1995. A 13-minute professionally produced NEMO Program video for the general public on non-point source pollution—its causes, effects and what individuals and communities can do to combat it.
The Network is coordinated by the University of Connecticut’s Center for Land use Education & Research (CLEAR), which also started the original NEMO outreach program in Connecticut in 1991. CLEAR serves as the Network “Hub,” facilitating resource sharing between network members, providing training opportunities, helping new programs get started, collecting and reporting Network-wide impacts, serving as a liaison with national partner agencies and organizations, and coordinating a bi-annual national conference – NEMO U. The Hub’s efforts are made possible through competitively-awarded grants from agencies like the USDA, NOAA, and US EPA. Individual NEMO programs raise their own funding.