Colorado Water Congress summer meeting recap #COWaterPlan

Sprawl
Sprawl

From The Colorado Statesman (Marianne Goodland):

According to a panel of water and land-use experts at last week’s Colorado Water Congress, Coloradans might have to learn to live with smaller lawns, smaller parks and other landscaping changes to help conserve water.

The state water plan outlines a “stretch goal” for municipalities to conserve 400,000 acre-feet of water annually over the next couple of decades. That goal was based on a host of suggestions from municipalities across the state and merged into one conservation goal. It’s a lofty goal — hence the term “stretch.”[…]

Matthew Mulica of the Keystone Policy Center said his organization is spearheading a “Colorado Water and Growth Dialogue.” The effort, now in its second year, looks at the potential benefits of integrating land and water planning and increasing housing density. The conversation brought to the table water providers, land-use planners and developers, public officials, and others with a stake in the matter. The group is first looking at Denver and Aurora water-service areas, and Mulica said they hope the findings will apply to the rest of the state.

They’re examining land and water planning that allows water to play a more prominent role in land-use choices; how to increase “densification” and decrease landscaping, while still maintaining the lifestyle that Coloradans enjoy; and which land-use patterns hold the greatest promise for cutting water use.

It’s not necessarily conservation, Mulica told the audience at the Aug. 20 session. When old homes are torn down and new ones built, there should be ways to change landscaping to reduce water use, he said, or to build houses that make water conservation a priority…

Marc Waage of Denver Water said the group wants to develop a “toolbox of options” for land-use planners that would include conservation-minded land-use patterns.

One model looks at the benefits of increasing residential density, including small single-family homes, changing single-family units to multi-family units, and increasing the density of multi-family housing. That’s where the comparison with Denver’s Stapleton and Highlands neighborhoods arises.

But landscaping is where the greatest opportunity for conservation lies, said Brenda O’Brien of Green Industries of Colorado, a company also known as GreenCO.

O’Brien pointed out that most of the action items in the state water plan relate to outdoor water use. The idea, she said, is to put together best-management practices in land and water-use planning. Making sure these practices are enacted will likely take state laws and local ordinances, she added.

The General Assembly will have to take another stab at changing the state’s construction defects law, according to Scott Smith of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.

Smith wasn’t as gung-ho about changing landscaping for individual homes. His industry has to anticipate what the market will look like in five to 10 years, he said, which means identifying development properties, coming up with financial partners, and making sure a project is profitable.

“Housing and community development comes from the private market, and economics drive the process,” Smith said. “Landscaping is the red-headed stepchild in the economics and financing of housing.”

But landscaping isn’t always up to the developer — it’s often left to the homeowner, Smith said. In addition, housing developments are required to provide open spaces and parks, and that tends to be even more important in high-density developments.

Smith also hinted that homeowners need to take a more active role in water conservation. The state and local building codes now require low-flow water fixtures, but he suspects residents game the system by flushing toilets multiple times or simply taking longer showers.

Then there are expectations about what parks should look like. Smith cited Colorado Springs as an example: the water utility directly bills the parks department for its water use, a rarity among municipalities. Because it has been stuck with the cost, the parks department has had to take a hard look at its water use and is going through an extensive process to redevelop parks, converting some heavily-irrigated areas to native plants.

Another area for conservation could be soccer fields, Smith said, converting grass to artificial turf. “You can’t water those fields enough,” he said. Commercial and industrial users should also play a part, he added.

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