WRA recently led an innovative training series in Colorado to empower land use and water planners. Our goal was to give them the knowledge they need to make smart, water-saving decisions for their cities and towns.
Water conservation must become integrated into the fabric of Western communities if we are to meet growing water demands while still maintaining everything that makes the West a great place to live. In Colorado, we’re projected to add more than 4 million new people by 2050—equivalent to five new cities the size of Denver popping up along the Front Range over the next 40 years. This growth explosion will run up against the age-old problem in the arid west—water. Water supplies, already strained by existing populations and the impacts of climate change, will need to stretch even further in the future.
The workshop series we hosted in May focused on better integrating water planning and urban development for the fast-growing Front Range of Colorado. The four-day Land Use Leadership Alliance Training Program, ‘LULA’ as we affectionately call it, was hosted by WRA and taught by Pace University law professors and local land use consultants. The LULA workshops foster dialogue and collaboration between city planners, developers, water providers, and key government officials who are focused on decreasing the water demands of future development WRA brought together more than 30 participants from the communities of Broomfield, Commerce City, Lakewood, and Westminster.
Henry Hollender, a Planning Commissioner from Lakewood, framed the challenge we face in this way: “The Front Range of Colorado is a semi-arid region that will double in population in the next 35 years. We are already experiencing water supply issues during dry periods. This will only get worse if we don’t take water conservation more seriously in our planning efforts.” I couldn’t agree more…well said, Henry.
WRA’s LULA workshop provides an opportunity for Front Range communities and selected leaders to be better prepared for that rapid growth by identifying smart ways to integrate land use planning with water planning. This type of planning locks in water savings at the time of construction, in a way that is much cheaper and more reliable than retrofitting households at a later date. Homes and communities that are planned “water-smart from the start” can use half the amount of water of typical new homes.
One of the best parts of these workshops is bringing together local leaders and giving them the tools they need to work together and plan for a more water efficient future. Stu Feinglas, the Water Resources Analyst for Westminster, said, “Land use planning and water supply planning share the same ultimate common goal but differ in their language, methods and parameters. The LULA training helps those involved in both areas to understand each other and the value of cooperation.” Tim Lowe, General Manager at Bancroft-Clover Water and Sanitation District, added on, “For those who do not do land use planning but are affected by it, this is a great opportunity to learn about the process and start thinking pro-actively about how to integrate it into your own long term planning.”
The real magic happens, though, when these LULA graduates go back to their communities and start putting what they’ve learned into action. I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of our labor growing out of LULA-generated ideas, such as a data sharing agreement between a city and its separately-run water provider, a commitment to specifically include water in an upcoming comprehensive plan update, and a tap fee reduction program for water smart landscaping. These types of programs will build upon our collective momentum to ensure that the Front Range grows in the most water-smart ways.