La Plata County: Water Information Program land use forum recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass
San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

Land use choices and water use are connected. So how come water people and land use planners don’t work together as water supply becomes more at risk and state population keeps growing?

That was the focus of a water and land use forum on Oct. 23 at the La Plata County Administration Building. It was organized by the Durango-based Water Information Program (WIP).

Denise Rue-Pastin, the director of the program, cited predictions that global population will reach 10 billion by 2050.

“Some of the information being presented is kind of a downer,” she warned. “Hopefully you (participants) will be armed with the information you need to make really good decisions.” She showed maps of global water shortage areas, including in the U.S., areas of growing food demand, and regions where wars are being fought over water…

She cited the Colorado Water Plan aimed at addressing water supply gaps as state population grows to a predicted 10 million.

The final plan must be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. She cited the familiar statistic that 80 percent of state population is on the Front Range while 80 percent of the water is on the West Slope, and 80 percent of water use in Colorado is for agriculture…

The Colorado Water Plan “doesn’t say a lot about what we should be doing,” although it lists ideas such as development that does not increase water demand, referred to as net zero, [Drew] Beckwith said. “The divide between water planners and land use planners is sometimes a challenge.” There are efforts to come up with estimates of how increased density might affect water use, he said.

The Water Plan will tout a goal to have 75 percent of state population living in communities that have incorporated water saving actions, Beckwith said. He asked for comments…

Beckwith said, “The challenge I see is for you in the southwest (part of the state) to say we don’t want any more trans-mountain (water) diversions, you need to lead by example.”

Shepard cited subdivision covenants and homeowner associations that require outside landscaping, and the HOA will sue for non-compliance.

That’s illegal under a state law passed a couple years ago, Beckwith responded.

Rue-Pastin raised another issue. “I know of a water utility that got rid of their water conservation because one of their directors said, ‘If we don’t use it, we’ll lose it.'”

Beckwith added that some utilities depend on the income from selling more water, but, “When you need more supply and conservation is the cheapest alternative, it makes sense.”[…]

Green and Beckwith listed ways to link water and land use:

. a system to allocate water taps

. impact fees on building permits

. use of state authorized 1041 powers to protect water supplies from diversions

. comprehensive/ master plans that encourage denser development and water conservation

. landscaping codes

. more development restrictions in areas with less groundwater

. prohibitions on outside water use, as in Summit County

. requirements for water efficient appliances.

Green cited the need to go beyond “aspirational” master plans to implementation in land use regulations.

Beckwith said, “At the end of the day, it depends on what your community cares about.”

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