To ensure Western communities can thrive in a warmer and more arid climate, we must start preparing now. WRA water policy analysts Lindsay Rogers, John Berggren, and Chelsea Benjamin do this vital work every day. They partner with cities and towns throughout the West, using their expertise in water conservation to help municipalities manage the effects of climate change on water resources. Through these efforts, they are guaranteeing Western communities can grow water smart in the face of drought and warming temperatures.
Integrating Water and Land Use Planning to Advance Water Conservation
The Interior West is simultaneously the fastest growing and driest region in the country. Even as its water supplies dwindle, it is expected to gain millions of residents in the coming decades. This is a challenge – but WRA has the policy tools to overcome it.
We are working with communities to integrate water planning into land use planning. For decades, water and land use planning were disconnected in many Western cities and towns. Land use planners would tell water utility managers how much water was needed for a new development, and the water managers would provide it. Yet where and how we build have impacts on the quantity of water we need and the quality of water that supports our communities and ecosystems.
WRA is promoting a different approach: integrating water and land use planning so we consider water conservation and efficiency at all phases of community planning and development. This method encourages water-smart growth from the beginning of development projects, reducing how much water that expanding communities need and building resilience to climate change’s impacts on water supplies.
WRA has worked directly with nearly a dozen municipalities and water providers to implement this change in water and land use planning. We partnered with Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in Utah to review new water efficiency standards for development within the area they it services. We also helped the city of Golden develop the first laundry-to-landscape graywater ordinance in Colorado, which will reduce per capita water demand by reusing water on-site for irrigation.
Encouraging Cities and Towns to Grow Water Smart in Utah
Right now, WRA is planning for an exciting next step in our work with localities: the Growing Water Smart Workshop in Utah.
In partnership with the Utah Division of Water Resources, the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, and Utah State University, WRA is hosting a three-day workshop this fall to bring together community staff and decision makers to discuss water and land use planning. Utah is navigating significant water supply limitations, requiring local jurisdictions to fundamentally rethink water use and to assume new leadership roles.
The overall objective of these workshops is to enable Utah’s municipalities to create action plans for efficiently using their water so they can thrive in the context of increasingly limited water supplies and continued growth. Using a range of public engagement, planning, communication, and policy implementation tools, we will help six community teams realize their goals in the areas of water efficiency, smart growth, watershed health, and water resiliency.
After teams complete the workshop, they become eligible to apply for a technical assistance grant to help carry out a water and land use integration strategy identified in their workshop action plan. Projects include implementing land use code audits and ordinance recommendations, updating landscape regulations, incorporating water efficiency into general plan updates, and facilitating collaborative and extensive stakeholder engagement.
Taken together, the ideas and plans developed at this workshop will help create a more sustainable water future for Utahns.