Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals

By Meagan Webber

go time bugThe final draft of the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) was released in December 2015. As is part of our mission, The Colorado Foundation for Water Education seeks to help keep you up-to-speed on how the plan’s action steps are progressing on the ground in order to meet Colorado’s water needs. This is our third installment of the 2016 Headwaters series on the plan’s implementation. You can find the previous two installments in the Winter 2016 and Summer 2016 issues of Headwaters magazine. You can also check them out on the Your Water Colorado blog via these links: Conservation Goals; Environmental and Recreational Goals; Storage Goals; Funding Goals; and Outreach, Education, and Public Engagement Goals. In this blog post, we will take an in-depth look at another one of the plan’s nine measurable outcomes: land use planning.

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Highlands Ranch_flickr
Highlands Ranch, home to 93,000 people in south metro Denver, relies on a combination of South Platte River water and groundwater.

Go Time for Colorado’s Water Plan: Meeting the Plan’s Land Use Goals by Ensuring Colorado’s Development is Water-Smart

Colorado’s population is projected to increase from 5.4 million in 2015 to approximately 8 million by 2050, which will require plenty of new development in addition to remodeling and replacing old housing. Although the connection between land use planning and water conservation may seem obscure at first, the former is important for the latter. Increasing housing density in cities will mean smaller lot sizes which means less Kentucky bluegrass turf drinking up water in our semi-arid state. This is just one example of how efficient land use can help reduce the gap between Colorado’s future water supply and demand. “We think there could be a big impact on water demand if we grow Colorado differently,” says Kevin Reidy, state water conservation technical specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB).  

Colorado’s Water Plan has already taken this into account, setting “a measurable objective that by 2025, 75 percent of Coloradans will live in communities that have incorporated water-saving actions into land-use planning.” The water plan outlines a five-step action plan and describes several initiatives that are already underway to work toward this goal. The specifics can be found in section 6.3.3 of the water plan.

The first of these action steps is to encourage local governments to use local development tools, such as “creating more stringent green-construction codes that include higher-efficiency fixtures and appliances and more water-wise landscapes.” This is one example of a development tool that will be the focus of voluntary trainings for local governments hosted by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) in 2016. These trainings are based on Pace University’s Land Use Leadership Alliance (LULA) training program. The CWCB has been working closely with LULA to develop its own training modules. Several trainings are coming up later this year, and several modules have been completed in the past nine months. In addition to the trainings, the CWCB will also host five webinars starting this September and continuing into October. So far, “ten communities have completed land-use and water trainings through the LULA process.” However 80 communities and water providers (in Colorado) will need to complete the training by 2025 in order to reach the 75 percent population objective, according to the water plan.

The CWCB is also working to incorporate municipal system water loss into these trainings. That is, water loss via leaks in the pipes that deliver water to our homes and businesses. “This is a low-hanging fruit that we should be going after,” says Reidy. “We are working to show people that this is a problem.” If these damages are repaired and piping infrastructure updated overall, it will save a lot of water and money for water providers and customers.

The second step is to examine barriers in state law for implementing the local development tools that local governments are encouraged to use in the above-mentioned trainings. At this point, the CWCB is waiting to learn about barriers in feedback from the trainings. Local governments and communities have more in-depth knowledge of the specific ordinances in their areas and will know what sorts of legal barriers will prevent them from using certain development tools.

The first two action steps build up to the third, which aims for incorporation of land-use practices into water conservation plans. Aurora Water is a great example of a water provider that has been integrating land use planning and water conservation. Aurora Water has been working with the Aurora Planning Department to run computer models that project how different city densities and land use patterns will affect water supply and demand into the future. These models and data were used to inform Aurora Water’s 2013 Water Management Plan, which includes outdoor watering rules for different landscapes under different conditions of water availability and encourages the installation of Xeriscape landscapes. They are currently running more of these models (as is Denver Water) to predict how land use changes could impact water demand in different scenarios. They are still working on crunching numbers and will have results soon. These figures will be important to initiatives like the Water and Growth Dialogue, which seeks to “explore and demonstrate how the integration of water and land use planning should be utilized to reduce water demand.”

The Water and Growth Dialogue brings different stakeholders together to discuss water conservation opportunities in land use planning and is an example of the fourth action step in action. Strengthening partnerships with all possible stakeholders at this nexus of land and water is important to the success of the initiatives described above. Historically, “land use planning and water development have often been overseen by entirely different agencies or local governing boards,” according to an article by Allen Best in the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine. This is an issue that coordination and collaboration between groups will help address. In addition to the partnership with local governments across the state and Pace University’s LULA program, the CWCB has also been working closely with the Department of Public Health and Environment; The Sonoran Institute; The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy; and The Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment, along with many other stakeholders. “We want to reach a lot of communities to integrate land use and water planning by 2020. There is a lot of work to do and these partnerships are going help us achieve that,” Reidy says.

The final action step is the allocation of funds to various projects that will further all of the goals described above. Funding from the CWCB’s Water Efficiency Grant Program (WEGP) will support smaller, more localized efforts, while the CWCB’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) grant funds will be allocated toward larger, regional efforts, according to the plan. This will be a bit trickier this year, given the ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court on the BP America vs. Colorado Department of Revenue case, which means WSRA will not receive additional funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year. “Since we are looking at shortage of funds, we are pulling back on certain projects in order to prioritize everything in the water plan,” Reidy says. “A big part of that is helping local water providers gain capacity to manage water systems better. We still have those kinds of initiatives going because we want to help them achieve those goals.” The CWCB has been working to come up with alternate sources of funding, many of which are in the CWCB Water Projects Bill that the Colorado Legislature will decide upon in 2017.

hw_sum_2015_coveroptIf you would like to stay up-to-date on the implementation of the Colorado Water Plan, keep an eye out for the rest of our articles in this series and sign up to receive the bimonthly CWCB Confluence Newsletter. You can learn more about the nexus of land use and water at 1:30 pm today in a session, “Linking Water Supply with Land Use Planning,” at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference. Also, check out the Summer 2015 issue of Headwaters magazine.

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