Land Use Planning For Water Efficiency

Drew-Beckwith.web“Connecting land use planning and water utility planning is essential for our communities to have reliable water and flowing rivers. Stronger coordination is a win-win all around.”

– Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager

Water Efficiency and Land Use Reference Manual

This helpful new guide will offer land use planners dozens of techniques and sample codes/policies to reduce the water footprint of new development. Produced by Pace University’s Land Use Law Center and Western Resource Advocates, this manual will be a must-read for any community facing water supply challenges. We expect to publish this manual at the end of 2017. See the working Table of Contents, here.

The West Is Growing Fast- And Our Water Supplies Are Not

The Interior West is simultaneously the driest and fastest growing region of the United States. With an expected increase of millions of more residents to our region in the coming decades, it is imperative that a new style of land development be implemented now – one that recognizes and embraces the limited amount of water in the West.

Integrating Land Use and Water Planning: A Solution

For a secure water future, water conservation and efficiency must be built into the fabric of community planning and development. Land use and water planning can be integrated in a manner that decreases the water footprint of new development and safe guards the amazing rivers and streams of our region from additional water withdrawels. Planning new communities water-smart can both meet the housing needs of our new residents and use significantly less water.

While water conservation is not new to the West, what is new is a coordinated effort throughout the urban development process to create communities that are designed to abide with the region’s lack of water. A number of community developments have already taken this approach and their success serves as a model for future development. For example, the Civano neighborhood in Tucson, AZ, uses 25%-50% less water than other neighborhoods in Tucson. Civano was built water smart from the start.

Water Smart Development is Achievable

Western Resource Advocates’ current work involves three major thrusts:

  • teaching land use techniques to local county and city land use planners that will reduce future water demand;
  • working with local communities to implement water saving ordinances; and
  • working with water utilities to adopt water connection charges that provide land developers incentives to design water conserving new homes and buildings.

Western Resource Advocates has partnered with the Land Use Law Center at Pace University to teach land use planning techniques that reduce future water demand. This program is called the Land Use Leadership Alliance training program and offers workshops to county and city land use planners and water planners. These workshops have created connections between land use and water planners within the same community, several of which had never formally met before the workshops. They have helped provide tools to cities, counties and water utilities to create water smart development.

We are also proactively working directly with several communities to incorporate water efficiency into their land use documents and ordinances. For example, we helped one community prioritize water efficiency in their comprehensive plan, and another community by funding a consultant to assist in updating their zoning code to better incorporate water efficiency and low-impact development.

We are also working to highlight water utilities who are early adopters of using water conservation-oriented water connection charges to encourage new developments to be water-smart. A water connection charge is a charge by the water utility to a new home or building to connect to the water system. The charges help cover the costs of new water infrastructure, water infrastructure maintenance and possibly securing new water supplies. There are ways to structure the water connection charge that create incentives for developers to design new homes and buildings to use less water.

How We’re Working On Land Use Planning For Water Efficiency

  • Water Connection Charges

    By encouraging water conservation at the outset of a new development, water utilities will not only extend their existing water supplies, they save consumers money on their monthly water bills.


Integrating Water Efficiency Into Land Use: A Reference Manual
We expect to publish this manual in April 2016. See the working Table of Contents, here.

New House New Paradigm

This WRA report provides an innovative take on how new housing developments should proceed in the West and documents how a new water-conserving approach has succeeded in a handful of new communities.

Submetering Fact Sheet

Submetering is the action of providing each tenant in a multi-family building their own water meter. Many multi-family buildings only have one meter for the entire building, severely limiting the ability of each resident to individually track and manage their water use. This fact sheet provides information on submetering options and issues.

50 Questions to Guide Water and Land Use Planning Integration

This question series is a must for any water provider looking to understand how effectively their community’s comprehensive plan addresses water efficiency.

Codes and Ordinances Fact Sheet

WaterSense codes for new development enable water use reductions of 20% compared to the status quo, and are being adopted by communities across the West. This factsheet discusses several code options, their water savings potential, and considerations for local adoption.

Bridging The Government Gap

This report from the University of Montana is an excellent background piece describing why the land use and water planning institutions are traditionally siloed, and provides several recommendations for improved integration.

Healthy Rivers Program

Land Use Planning For Water Efficiency


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Drew Beckwith

Water Policy Manager

Amelia Nuding

Senior Water Resources Analyst