Land use planning and water — A call to action

by Julio G. Iturreria, Centennial, Colorado

On May 14, 2014, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered Executive Order D 2013-005 directing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to commence work on the Colorado Water Plan; the first comprehensive plan written by Coloradans for Coloradans. The Colorado Water Conservation Board was chosen to lead the work on the Colorado Water Plan as it is charged with protecting the development of the waters of the state for the benefit of the present and into the future. Colorado’s plan will be the last of the state water plans for the western portion of the United States.

The state planning process is the same as all the other Western states that already developed state water plans. It’s a process, we as planners, are very familiar with. It involves extensive stakeholder and public involvement, focuses on regional supply and demand, and contains policy recommendations on regional concerns including water quality, population growth, protecting productive farmland, wildfire impacts, and drought among other issues. This state plan, like the other state plans, provides an opportunity for residents to develop a path for future development that supports healthy watersheds while creating vibrant and sustainable cities and economic development, including recreation and tourism economies.

Despite the clear connection between water planning and land use planning, the draft Colorado Water Plan appears to lack a clear connection between water and land use planning.  There needs to be a stronger connection made so that land use professionals are active in protecting our water resources.

Colorado, as well as surrounding Western states with arid climates, will continue to grow at an alarming rate to the point where the population is expected to double in the next thirty years. This population growth will impact natural resources, including land and water. Planners should recognize this link and participate in regional plans related to water resources.

Now is the time for planners to broaden our circle of influence to include the topic of water planning.  Many communities are facing water shortages now, and the impacts will become more evident and larger reaching as our population grows and the droughts, wildfires, and demand for water increases.

No longer can planners accept that every issue has been reviewed and commented on with the best interest of the existing and future citizens of our state. As shown ith the lack of a clear connection between land use and water planning in the Colorado Water Plan, planners need to actively participate and become a part of the mix of professionals that are dealing with the important topic of water in a regional manner.

Through active participation, planners can bring their experiences from the many public meetings they attended and the several issues they see on a day to day basis. Planners really are the heartbeat of the community and can look holistically at the issues related to water planning. Planners also are in a position to impact change.

They can contribute to the water and land use regional approach at a local level via changing the regulations to rules that will help society find a workable solution faster. This approach will reduce the severity caused by a lack of future water. Instead of being reactive to situations, planners can use their skills to be proactive and use what they know about the carrying capacity of the land to help water planners know the amount of water they need to acquire and use wisely.

As I write about this topic of water, I am thinking about the water cycle. All the water that is here and will be here is part of one worldwide cycle. This topic needs a holistic view.  As professionals, we have a tendency to specialize and silo ourselves. As we become more specialized in our experiences, we lose the opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture from all points of view.

I urge you to take these words as a call to action. Let’s cover our bases now and participate in water planning.

Julio Iturreria is the Long Range Program Manager at Arapahoe County in Colorado. He is on the board of Western Planning Resources.


To read more about the Colorado Water Plan, visit

Published in the October/November 2014 Issue

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