4 Reasons to have a “Water” Element in your Comprehensive Plan.

This week’s blog is by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, Georgia

Water should be a central focus of your Comprehensive Plan because planning and water are inextricably tied together. If your community includes “Water” as an element of its comprehensive plan water managers, planners, elected officials, industries, the public, and other stakeholders will recognize that they have more in common than they think. Here are 4 reasons to include a “Water Element” in your Comprehensive Plan.

Rivers Alive! is one of the biggest volunteer events in Athens, GA. Love of the rivers unites people from different walks of life.

1)  Water Unites Us All

Water is essential to everything in your community. It provides public health protection, fire protection, support for the economy, and quality of life. Without enough clean water, all of the other elements of your plan would be irrelevant.  The economic value of water is elusive, but we know that without adequate clean water there would be no economic development.

2) Water Needs Planning and Planning Needs Water

The essential components of any Comprehensive Plan are inextricably tied to water. Water affects landuse and landuse affects water. Many communities are trying to implement best practices such as compact, sustainable development to improve transportation choices and air quality.  These practices also support good water stewardship. For example, water savings can be realized if new urban and suburban developments incorporate mixed uses and higher densities. A Water Element in a Comprehensive Plan will support things that planners have been trying to implement for other reasons and can sometimes be difficult to implement.


People discuss their vision for their City at a Comprehensive Plan workshop in Winterville, Georgia.

3) Comp Plan Workshops are Friendly!

Public meetings about water management are often adversarial as stakeholders compete for the resource.  Discussions at Comprehensive Plan workshops are typically more cooperative and collaborative as participants create a vision for their community.  Comprehensive Plan workshops provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue about water resources and can raise awareness of the nexus between water and human activity. Identifying the link between water and everything else in the Plan is important to developing support for planning best practices and costly, but desperately needed, water-related infrastructure improvements.

4) Drought Resiliency

What does planning have to do with drought?  Planning cannot influence rainfall, but it can influence consumption patterns, both over the long term and during drought.  Urban form, building codes, and landscaping choices influence water consumption. For example, large lots tend to encourage summertime lawn watering. More compact residential development reduces water use for lawns. A study in Portland estimated that a 25 percent reduction in the average building size for new single-family residential development in the study region is associated with a 6.6 MG reduction in water consumption per year.  In short, you need a “Water” element in your Comprehensive Plan to ensure that the other elements consider availability of water supply in goal setting and strategy development.  The “Water” element should answer the question, “What will you do during the next big drought?”

Luna Leopold wrote that “Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” That means that water can be used as a gauge for how we are doing. Lets acknowledge the value of water by making it a central focus of our Comprehensive Plans!


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