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Research Spotlight: Charlene LeBleu

Impacts of solid waste landfills on minor populations in Alabama

“Growth and land use change are inevitable, and the way in which growth takes place impacts water quality,” says Charlene LeBleu, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Master of Landscape Architecture program. “Land use practices can be implemented that balance the need for housing, economic development, and protect the natural environment.” Unfortunately this is not always the case, and it’s here where development takes place without such considerations, that is the focus of LeBleu’s research. “All land uses have an effect on water quality, whether positive or negative. In fact, land use practices are probably the most important factor in determining water quality in most Alabama landscapes.“

LeBleu recently completed a three-year study with the College of Engineering on the effects of landfills and landfill policy. Entitled the “Alabama Solid Waste Study,” this research not only considered how siting landfills could be improved, but also analyzed how landfill policy affects Alabama communities.These troubling facts revealed by this study show the poor, and minority populations in the state are forced to live near waste. This spatial study only examines residents living near landfills and does not examine hazardous waste sites, brownfields, manufacturing sites, or similar problematic land.

To read more about this study, please go to: APLA Graduate Students Win Outstanding Planning Award

Though runoff from landfills may impair streams, landfills in general are not a water quality problem in Alabama. Urbanization is by far the largest impediment to Alabama streams. “The stream restorations I work on provide research opportunities to understand more about water resources and the impacts that humans can have on a stream.” LeBleu recently partnered with Dr. Eve Brantley, an associate professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences and the state water resources specialist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, to restore a segment of Parkerson Mill Creek near the Coliseum on the university campus. “The outreach research on this stream segment will introduce alumni, students, faculty, and others to a more innovative way to manage Parkerson Mill Creek for wildlife habitat, water quality, and landscape aesthetics," LeBleu says. "With this segment located in the central core of campus, many people are now able to see and touch the stream. It’s become more than a ditch. Now it’s a destination.”

The urban runoff flowing through Parkerson Mill Creek eventually finds its way to Mobile Bay. The August issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, the magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, featured the work that Charlene LeBleu and her students have done on a marine spatial plan for Mobile Peninsula. "The Whole Shore," by Adam Arvidson, in the magazine's Foreground NOW section, has an interview with LeBleu detailing the need for the integration of land and marine spatial planning. Currently no models exist in the Gulf of Mexico for an integrated land use plan and marine spatial plan. “Dr. Rebecca Retlaff, Associate Professor of Community Planning, and I are researching how current performance of policies (zoning, stormwater management, coastal management zones, and so on) have responded, or failed to respond, to changes in land use and land cover and how that has affected the water quality of Mobile Bay. LeBleu and Retzlaff’s students are assisting them in research and a draft plan that includes coastal regulatory policies, land uses and marine uses, and how they impact land, water, ecosystem health, or the quality of life of residents on the Mobile Peninsula. The focus on both land use planning and marine planning processes forms the core reasoning for predicting future policy response that will provide for a more resilient coast.