Is Your Community Growing Water Smart?

By Waverly Klaw, Director, Resilient Communities and Watersheds, Sonoran Institute

New Free Guidebook - “
Growing Water Smart Metrics: Tracking the Integration of Water and Land Use Planning.”

We know the problem.

Water supplies in the West are increasingly stressed. Population growth and aridification are near certainties, but how far we will need to stretch our water to sustain or improve the quality of life we have known remains uncertain. Drought conditions are deepening, impacting more than 81% of our state, and Colorado’s Water Plan projects growing gaps between water supply and demand in coming decades. Local governments can reduce our ever-growing pressure on water resources by “Growing Water Smart” – namely integrating water and land use planning to optimize existing and future development while aligning with community values and vision

Local solutions for local resilience.

In Colorado, local control means that the state delegates almost all land use decisions to local governments. This presents both challenges and opportunities for working towards a more water resilient future. “Local planning processes and land use decisions are really the proving and innovation ground for doing our part to close gaps identified in the Water Plan” says Christy Wiseman, Water and Land Use Planner in the Community Development Office of the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA). Wiseman runs the Colorado Water and Land Use Planning Alliance (“the Alliance”), a key collaborative in establishing best practices and creating metrics by which to track progress on water at the local government scale. The Alliance is a non-formal multi-stakeholder group of representatives from state agencies, local governments, universities, advocacy organizations, research organizations, and other interested parties who come together to develop resources, provide technical assistance, and track progress on water and land use integration across Colorado.

Linking progress and impact.

What has your community undertaken to optimize water efficiency? What have those actions achieved? Is your community among those who have “integrated water-saving measures into land use planning,” a goal in the Colorado Water Plan? Knowing if what you are doing is safeguarding public health, economic performance, and native ecosystems is good governance. Measuring, communicating, and collaboratively acting on the right data is essential to responsible water stewardship. Data-informed planning can reduce costs for infrastructure, operations, maintenance, and recovery after disruptive events like droughts, wildfires, and floods. The Alliance, among other institutions, recognizes the importance of metrics in helping communities know what they should be tracking and measuring related to water.

Metrics measure what you need to know.

Tracking metrics to establish baselines, set targets, and inform decisions is fundamental to moving from a strategy of sheer hope to one of meaningful action. Growing Water Smart Metrics: Tracking the Integration of Water and Land Use Planning,authored by Sarah Martin, Shelby Sommer, and Amy Volkens of Brendle Group and managed by the Sonoran Institute on behalf of the Colorado Water and Land Use Planning Alliance, can help you establish and calculate these metrics. This free guidebook is a call to action to community land use planners, water providers, consultants, government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations to lead the way on collaboration and data-driven decision-making. The ubiquitous need for data and capacity present an opportunity to step beyond siloed roles and jurisdictional boundaries to collaborate with different members of your community and with the communities around you.

The Growing Water Smart Metrics guidebook offers a set of baseline data that can be assessed for year-over-year trends to empower adaptation. Ten “Progress” metrics track things such as the development of long-range plans, implementation of water conservation and efficiency programs, adoption of landscaping and building codes, implementation of adequate water supply rules, and regionalization efforts. Fourteen metrics are then recommended to measure the “Impact” of your community’s strategies by assessing trends in land use, development patterns, and water demand. Each metric is supported by a detailed description of the desired outcomes, methodologies, data needs and sources, calculation considerations, and where to go for more information.

How to get started.

Create partnerships between your planning department and your community’s water providers to agree upon which metrics to measure and gather the necessary data. Establish opportunities to communicate trends in water conservation with elected and appointed officials and representatives from other municipal departments such as building, parks and recreation, economic development, and sustainability and resiliency officers.

Measuring and regularly reviewing performance empowers leaders to frame the dialogues that decide if and how to adapt plans, policies, and programs to ensure resilient communities and watersheds. Download the guidebook at ResilientWest.organd contact Sonoran Instituteif your community is interested in technical support for the development of metrics that measure the impact of your water and land use integration strategies.


Funding for this project was provided by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) through a Colorado Water Plan Implementation grant and by the Gates Family Foundation, and with additional support from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.



Waverly Klaw, AICP
Director, Resilient Communities and Watersheds
P.O. Box 9792 Denver, CO 80209
tel: (720) 340-0020

Christy Wiseman
Water and Land Use Planner
Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Community Development Office
1313 Sherman Street, #521
Denver, CO 80203
tel: 303-864-8439


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