Water Lines: What can local governments do to protect & conserve water?
Free Press Weekly Columnist
As people around the state debate how to make Colorado’s limited water supplies stretch to accommodate nearly twice as many people by 2050, the topic of growth surfaces repeatedly. Some call for outright limits on population growth, while others point out that how communities grow can have as big an impact on their water use as how much they grow. For example, smaller lots equal smaller lawns, resulting in less water consumed per household.
In May, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG) held a workshop to explore how land-use planning practices and regulations can be employed to achieve water conservation and water-quality goals. According to the workshop report prepared by Torie Jarvis, staff to NWCCOG’s Water Quality & Quantity Committee, some communities are already taking substantial action in these areas. The full workshop report is available here: http://www.nwccog.org/index.php/programs/water-qualityquantity-committee. Key points are highlighted below.
For some communities in Colorado’s High Country, conservation measures serve the dual purpose of ensuring that new developments have reliable water supplies and protecting streams. The Town of Winter Park places a high value on the Fraser River, which runs right through town, despite the fact that 65 percent of its natural flow is diverted to the Front Range before it reaches the town. The Town limits the issuance of development permits to maintain 10 cubic feet per second in the Fraser River, and does not allow outside irrigation in the town limits. The Town of Eagle requires that water rights attached to developments annexed by the Town to be donated to the Town. The rights are then leased back for use by the development, but the Town retains ultimate control.
Tools to regulate the pace and location of growth are also tools to limit pressure on water supplies. Pitkin County has a growth management quota system, which establishes a set number of development permits on a competitive basis, while the Town of Eagle uses an urban growth boundary to control density and the location of new growth.
In addition to ensuring the long-term reliability of their water supplies, local governments use various tools to protect habitat along stream banks and water quality in streams. The Town of Eagle’s Brush Creek Management Plan identifies values that should be protected in the stream corridor and then requires any new development to protect those values in order to receive permits. Pitkin County limits which portions of a property can be developed and landscaped in order to protect its stream banks, while annexation to the Town of Winter Park generally requires Town ownership of the river corridor. Several local governments have also invested substantial funds in stream restoration projects.
Ultimately, the workshop participants agreed that local governments have the tools to ensure that new growth doesn’t outstrip water supplies. They also agreed that water conservation targets should be incorporated into land-use plans, but were wary of any state mandate regarding what such targets should be or how they should be reached. The report states that all workshop participants agreed that the dialogue on the intersection between land-use planning and water conservation should continue.
What do you think? To communicate your opinion to the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and water planners at the state and local levels, take a brief survey here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Water-land.
This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or Twitter at Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.
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