By Jen Kinney.
No matter how efficient a new development may be, growth always comes at a price, with increased demand for water one of the more tangible costs. In areas already experiencing water scarcity, it’s also potentially one of the biggest challenges to long-term sustainability.
That’s why the Alliance for Water Efficiency, Environmental Law Institute, and River Network recently released a tool to help communities plan for water-neutral growth. The Net Blue Ordinance Toolkit, developed with input from seven geographically diverse regions of the U.S., is designed to meet different water needs when drafting an ordinance to require developers to offset new water demand. Another automated worksheet helps developers calculate exactly what kind and scale of offsets they’d need.
“Those who work in urban design and city planning know that water plays an important role, but they’re frustrated often by the lack of access they have to those in the water and wastewater utilities who should be working with them more directly and aren’t,” says Mary Anne Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE). “There’s very much a firewall between those two entities.”
Offsets could take a number of forms. Dickinson gives the example of a developer building a new 10-home subdivision. If the city has a water-neutral development ordinance, the developer will have an incentive to install the most efficient appliances possible, but the project will still have an impact on local water demand, about 500,000 gallons per year.
To reach neutrality, an ordinance might require the developer to implement conservation measures in other locations. Maybe the firm retrofits all of the plumbing in a commercial office building they also own. Maybe they harvest rainwater at another site, and make it available for irrigation.