This image shows the side yard of a house in Washington state. The yard includes a rain garden that collects water from the street and filters pollutants. The garden includes drought-tolerant plants and grasses. Perennials range in color from purple to green to red. An orange house sits in the background.

New Publication

Integrating Water Efficiency into Land Use Planning in the Interior West: A Guidebook for Local Planners
By Emma Zehner, January 9, 2019


Las Vegas residents receive $3 for every square foot of grass they replace with drought-tolerant landscaping. In Morro Bay, California, developers must retrofit existing housing stock to save twice the water demanded by new development. Chandler, Arizona, offers awards and incentives to developments that meet green building standards.

These are just a few of the programs profiled in a new manual released by Pace University’s Land Use Law Center and Western Resource Advocates (WRA), with support from the Lincoln Institute’s Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy. Intended for local land use planners facing water scarcity and related environmental challenges in the Intermountain West, the 300-page guide calls for the assimilation of water efficiency and conservation techniques into community development and land use planning. Integrating Water Efficiency into Land Use Planning in the Interior West: A Guidebook for Local Planners builds on years of research and community discussions and aims to build collaboration between land use planners and water planners, who have historically operated within their own silos.

“If you can really think about water throughout all parts of development, you can actually become much more efficient with your water resources and you often don’t even need new supplies,” explained John Berggren, water policy analyst at WRA.

For the past decade, as the Intermountain West has seen significant population growth, WRA and other local organizations have been working with municipal staff and elected officials to shift the region toward “water smart” development practices. In 2015, for example, Colorado published its first water plan, which includes a goal that 75 percent of the state’s municipalities will incorporate water-saving actions into land-use planning by 2025.

The new manual, written specifically for local land use planners, is the first comprehensive document of its kind, said Erin Rugland, research fellow at the Babbitt Center. “This manual is foundational in forming our efforts and advancing the state of practice and literature of water and land use integration,” Rugland said.

“You not only get the technical information like specific zoning codes, but you can also see examples from communities around the country to learn what they did, how they did it, and how it turned out,” Berggren added.

The focus of the guide’s chapters range from how to draft a water element for a comprehensive plan, to how to structure a sustainability plan to address water, to how to create water-efficient density by permitting accessory dwelling units. Within each chapter, subsections drill down to detailed instructions—for example, how to promote cluster development, or adopt requirements for water-saving measures such as stormwater capture that equal the water demands of new development. Throughout, guidelines are supplemented by case studies, including sample language that municipalities have used in their planning documents.

The Babbitt Center’s involvement with the new manual is an important launching point for the center’s growing work and presence in the Intermountain West. Established in 2017, the Babbitt Center is currently producing informational materials for the State of Colorado on integrating water into comprehensive plans and providing guidance on integrating land use within water efficiency plans filed by Colorado water providers. “In the next year, we will expand our review of comprehensive plans throughout Colorado River Basin communities to better gauge the state of practice in the region,” said Rugland.



Photograph Credit: Flickr/U.S. Environmental Protection Agency