By Abbye Neel

What is water regional planning?

Population growth, climate change, and economic factors all influence water resource availability and quality. Coupled with these variables is the fact that water resources flow across jurisdictional boundaries and water utility providers/districts do not always align with local government boundaries. Which begs the question – how do we work together to ensure a reliable future water supply in the face of a growing population and a more extreme climate?

While much easier said than done, regional water planning efforts aim to encourage collaboration to address these challenges by identifying risks, vulnerabilities, and strategies to mitigate and adapt to future scenarios by working together. Importantly, there isn’t a one size fits all approach. Planning can be as large of an undertaking as a Statewide water plan to a small effort that simply aims to understand all of the water sources and risks in a particular area. Either way, clear goals and objectives can help steer the direction and determine scope. Examples of topics that could be addressed in regional water planning efforts include:

  • Creating an inventory of water providers and vulnerabilities in an area to understand complex issues
  • Increasing infrastructure reliability across jurisdictional boundaries
  • Creating resilient water supplies through holistic watershed management
  • Collaborating and coordinating program offerings (e.g., water conservation services)
  • Planning for water shortage and drought response
  • Aligning land use planning and water conservation efforts

Some examples of regional water planning efforts, “large” and “small,” include:

How does water planning tie into other types of planning?

Regional water plans are just one tool in the toolkit. Comprehensive Plans and/or Climate Action Plans offer unique avenues to connect regional water planning to other sectors, like land use planning and energy-water nexus. By making these connections across comprehensive or climate action planning efforts, outcomes can create impact across multiple sectors. For example, while on the decline, thermoelectric plants are the largest source of United States’ water withdrawals at 133 billion gallons per day or 40% of all daily water withdrawals (USGS, 2019). Making the switch to less water-intensive energy generation (e.g., renewables) can help not only with greenhouse gas emissions goals but also with water goals. Alternatively, land use planning decisions that help meet affordable housing goals can also increase water efficiency by promoting more efficient water use in building design.

The reality is that it’s all connected – the way we make land-use planning decisions affects the way we use water, which in turn impacts the way we use energy, which likewise affects water use and land impacts. The challenge lies in getting better at connecting these interdependencies.

About the Author – Abbye is a water expert helping to shape the vital intersection between water resources and efficiency with land use planning. With more than five years of utility and local government experience, she has a deep understanding of the dynamics within these sectors and best practices for water engineering and planning within such entities. At Brendle Group, Abbye supports a wide range of projects through the implementation of sustainable water management solutions and climate resiliency approaches.

Abbye has extensive experience developing data-driven water efficiency programs and policies that require collaboration with a variety of stakeholders to implement new programming and updates to municipal and land use codes. During her time as a Research Assistant at Colorado School of Mines, she also studied the influence of redevelopment along the Colorado Front Range on water use patterns.

In addition to her technical background, Abbye has strong communication and facilitation skills that are essential for collaboration and consensus building in the pursuit of creative solutions to complex challenges.