Finding enough water to meet the demands of the booming Front Range has city planners closely looking at how new developments can be built with water conservation as a key component. And with the second draft of the State Water Plan scheduled for release in July, many water advocates are hoping to see the issue of land use addressed. As Maeve Conran reports for our statewide water series Connecting the Drops, in the arid west, land and water go hand in hand.
Colorado has experienced massive population growth in the last few years, and that trend is projected to continue.
Garner: “So the 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010.”
Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer says the 2040 population forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010.
Garner says more than 2 million of that growth will happen between Pueblo and Fort Collins, putting increased pressure on the state’s already tight water supplies. “How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there.”
That growth in population is why many groups who are concerned about water resources in Colorado are calling for land planning to play a greater role in the water plan.
Drew Beckwith a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates says the state water plan should encourage growing cities to incorporate water conservation in their land planning decisions, particularly when it comes to outdoor water use as half the municipal water on the Front Range is currently going to outdoor water use. Beckwith says that relatively simple measures like requiring increased density in new housing developments will have big water savings.
“If you put houses closer together and they have less lawn, they’ll use less water.”
Listen to an extended interview with Drew Beckwith of Western Resource Advocates on land planning and water conservation:
More and more municipalities are already recognizing the need to use less irrigation water. In 2004 The City of Westminster established landscape regulations requiring a maximum of 15 gallons per square foot water use per year. Stu Feinglas, the city’s water resources analyst says the results have been dramatic. “A recent study we did we found that Westminster single family homes are using about 70% of the water we project they would need for their yards.”
Since 2001, Westminster has added about 12,000 people, yet the water demand has stayed the same or gone down slightly. Feinglas credits better water efficiency in plumbing fixtures and a reduction in outdoor water use. That’s on an individual household basis…changes are also happening at a larger planning level.
Just east of Highway 36, north of Denver, a nearly 9 acre parcel of land will become home to 65 single family houses. This is one of the last undeveloped areas in Westminster city limits. Principal planner Grant Penland with the city says unlike older developments, these homes will have a lot less lawn. “So part of the water conservation is turf area will be reduced to 30-35% of landscaped areas.”
The developer for this parcel beat out other applications by factoring in water conservation. Penland says this is due to the city’s specific competitive bidding process. “We incentivize water conservation, energy conservation, reduction in turf, those of types of aspects as part of the competition.”
Drew Beckwith with Western Resource Advocates says the state could play a significant role in encouraging more municipalities to conserve water through similar kinds land planning practices and the first place to start is the Colorado Water Plan.
“In Colorado we have a law that says in everyone’s land use comprehensive plan you have to consider tourism, it’s the only thing that’s required in your comprehensive plan. In Arizona for instance, there’s a requirement for you to have a water element of your comprehensive plan. Perhaps something like that would be appropriate in Colorado.”
Currently, developers must show they can provide water for their projects, but master plans aren’t required to include water as a consideration.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board says the upcoming water plan won’t mandate land use policies for local government and planning agencies but the state legislature is getting a head start on linking land planning and water use. On May 1st, Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law a measure that allows municipalities to avail of free training in water-demand management and water conservation for their planning departments.
For Connecting the Drops, I’m Maeve Conran.
Top Photo: Water planners and land use planners share the same building in the City of Westminster making collaboration easier. Since 2001, Westminster has added about 12,000 people and the water demand has stayed the same or gone down slightly. Water Resources Analyst Stu Feinglas credits better water efficiency in plumbing fixtures and a significant reduction in outdoor water use.