Graphic courtesy of the Brendle Group

Zero. Neutral. For the sustainability minded, there’s carbon-neutrality, net-zero energy classification, and other great tools around energy and climate planning, but why aren’t there tools to plan for water sustainability? That’s a question that Brendle Group, a sustainability consulting firm, has been working to solve since 2011. Although those existing tools might touch water, none have focused on water, or planning to minimize development’s impact on water quality and quantity… until a couple months ago.

In late August, Brendle Group, with support from other companies and organizations including the City of Fort Collins, New Belgium Brewery, the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Adams County, released a new Net Zero Water Building Scale Toolkit and accompanying guidebook. The Net Zero Water concept aims to re-imagine the way water resources are managed.

Net Zero focuses on the idea of water neutrality, explained Shelby Sommer, a planner with the Brendle Group, while presenting the Net Zero Water concept at the American Planning Association Colorado Chapter Conference in Steamboat Springs.”It’s important to start shifting the conversation from, ‘how much water do we need’, and flipping it on its head to, ‘how much water do we have,'” Sommer says. “We want to get people thinking about how much water is available and linking that to how much we use.”

The Brendle Group's office in downtown Fort Collins serves as one Net Zero pilot project. The consulting firm built two rain gardens to capture rooftop runoff to improve stormwater, working with the Colorado State University stormwater center to design and build those raingardens and using the toolkit to step through the process.
The Brendle Group’s office in downtown Fort Collins serves as one Net Zero Water pilot project. The consulting firm built two rain gardens to capture rooftop runoff to improve stormwater, working with the Colorado State University stormwater center to design and build those raingardens and using the toolkit to step through the process. Photo courtesy of the Brendle Group

The toolkit makes everyone a planner when it comes to water, Sommer says. It starts by calculating the user’s water footprint and leads them through the steps of creating a vision statement and identifying water quality and quantity target goals. The toolkit then moves the user from footprint to implementation through developing and using modeling to see the impact of different footprint reduction strategies, this is what Sommer calls “the meat of this tool”. Then the user can organize their strategy, using the toolkit’s resources to decide what to do first or last, what and how to track results, and how to engage stakeholders.

As for the strategies, those include topics like indoor water consumption, efficiency within a building space, outdoor irrigation, water reuse, rainwater harvesting, and others that focus more on quality to encourage urban development but minimize our impact. All tools could be implemented in any building nationwide, and for now, Brendle Group is looking for partners to use the toolkit on all scales, up from the building model.

“We support efforts at various other scales from a campus to a city to a watershed and looking at various ways an organization or community can reduce consumption so they’re only consuming as much water is available to their site and reduce stormwater impacts,” said Becky Fedak with Brendle Group during an interview early in the summer. “Those of us on the team are available if folks need more in-depth analysis. We try to keep it available for anyone to use, even if they aren’t water experts.” Learn more and test out the toolkit for yourself here, or read about other efforts to merge land use and water planning in the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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