Guest Column | March 14, 2018

Overcoming Collaboration Barriers Between Water Professionals And Land Planners

By Kelsey Beveridge

WRF

Water Research Foundation (WRF) research examines successes and challenges for “One Water” management of resources and long-term sustainability.

Water management seeks to maximize water resources and services, break down barriers among water, wastewater, stormwater, and reuse within the water sector, as well as pursue partnerships with other industrial sectors. Traditionally, planning and water management have collaborated only on a community basis. The mechanisms for integrating land use, urban planning, and comprehensive planning considerations into water resource activities are not well-defined. While there are barriers to coordinating across both sectors, there are effective ways to bridge the disconnect between planners and water resource managers. Incorporating new approaches across sectors can increase resiliency in a community, add value to water systems, and create economic and social health for communities.

Two projects by the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation and the Water Research Foundation (now both organizations have merged as The Water Research Foundation) examined opportunities for collaboration of planning and water resource management. Both projects performed a joint survey to identify issues where planners and water providers need stronger collaboration and to gain an understanding of how planning decisions are made. WE&RF’s project, Joining Up Urban Water Management with Urban Planning and Design (SIWM5R13), identifies existing urban planning processes that connect water resource planning with management and bridges the disconnect between urban planners and water resource managers. WRF’s project, Integrating Land Use and Water Resources: Planning to Support Water Supply Diversification (#4623), evaluated water supply diversification efforts through an integrated approach, and developed resources that help advance collaboration of water and land use planning.

The coordination in communities among water management and planners varies, but a greater level of coordination can improve the sustainability of the overall water supply and diversify the portfolio.

Alt-Water Opportunities
There are a variety of alternative water supplies that can be used to meet the needs of communities and municipalities. These methods include potable reuse, conservation, non-potable reuse, stormwater capture, rainwater capture, and desalination, among others. Often these nontraditional water supplies are not managed by the water provider, but are installed independently without sharing with a broader monitoring entity. The coordination in communities among water management and planners varies, but a greater level of coordination can improve the sustainability of the overall water supply and diversify the portfolio.

Tucson Water was used as a case study in both projects as an example of successful collaboration. Tucson Water services Pima County, a service area of approximately 713,000 people and 9,200 square miles. The dry climate, changing weather patterns, population growth, and water supply are key considerations for future planning. While there is room for improvement in future projects, there have been successful instances of collaboration for immediate needs. The most common examples of collaboration are around water supply and wastewater, conservation and environmental protection, and floodplain management. When collaboration has been successful between planners and water professionals, supportive political and social conditions were enabling factors.

In the WE&RF report, a specific instance of successful collaboration around the Commercial Rainwater Harvesting Ordinance was examined, including drivers for water managers and planners to work together and factors that enabled them to collaborate. Success factors leading to implementation included regular stakeholder meetings and workshops to fill educational gaps. This led to a new standard for commercial properties to use rainwater for irrigation and support the city’s water conservation efforts.

Success factors leading to implementation included regular stakeholder meetings and workshops to fill educational gaps.

The other research team looked broadly at collaboration efforts for alternative water supply planning. This included rainwater harvesting, but also using reclaimed water for new developments and recharging aquifers with treated effluent as part of the Central Arizona Project. Several key factors led to successful integration solutions such as a multijurisdictional working group, trust, and ongoing coordination among city and county agencies and departments, and public education and stakeholder engagement to address community concerns. These efforts led to green infrastructure resolutions, guidelines, regulations, rebate programs, and planning tools.

Both projects recognized an opportunity to facilitate collaboration in order to improve allocation of resources. There are incentives to an integrated, coordinated plan, which include improving reliability and resilience, environmental protection, improving water management, and supply sustainability. Integrating Land Use and Water Resources: Planning to Support Water Supply Diversification identified how different types of communities and municipalities weigh drivers against their priorities when implementing an alternative water supply. The project considers issues in need of greater water and land use collaboration, how to identify coordination issues, common barriers, and tactics for overcoming barriers. Joining Up Urban Water Management with Urban Planning and Design had a similar premise that identified collaboration factors that localities can use to join policies that promote One Water solutions in the context of urban development, such as urban zoning and development patterns to improve long-term resiliency.

Survey Identifies Challenges, Inspires Solutions
The research teams performed a joint survey that engaged a large group of water utility and planning professionals. While there are communities that try to utilize an integrated approach, there are challenges that have limited the scope of collaboration between planners and water resource managers. The main challenge in coordination is the time required to align work products with more people when time is a constraint. In addition, water professionals and planners have different final objectives that make it hard to integrate a unified plan. However, the research results showed there is a net benefit from coordination despite the challenges.

While there are communities that try to utilize an integrated approach, there are challenges that have limited the scope of collaboration between planners and water resource managers.

The survey made several important findings that reflect an overall desire for long-term integrated decision making. Generally, the results suggest there is more support from planners to have water managers engaged than the other way around, as planners are more accustomed to engaging multiple stakeholders in their decision-making process. In addition to a willingness to collaborate, benefits included reducing competition for limited water supplies, increasing water supply sustainability at reduced costs, providing better information to the public, and increasing predictability of the development process. Because water planning and its related infrastructure investments are long-term processes, there is a good reason to consider these issues within the context of long-range land use planning.

Utilizing the survey results and input from stakeholder interviews, WRF produced the Coordinated Planning Guide: A How-To Resource for Integrating Alternative Water Supply and Land Use Planning (SIWM5R13). The guide identifies specific planning opportunities in the water and land use planning processes where better collaboration can occur by taking results from the research report and turning them into a navigable tool. It is organized into three main categories of community planning activities: long-range plans, codes and regulations, and development review processes. The intent is that both community planners and water professionals will be able to see themselves in case studies and identify key areas where they can take a lead in advancing collaboration.

In addition to the Coordinated Planning Guide, the SIWM5R13 report includes tools to help planners and water managers work together, such as the Barriers-Bridges Matrix and a step-by-step Self-Assessment Process for integration. The matrix is an Excel-based tool that practitioners can use to identify water management priorities that would benefit from cross-sector collaboration between water utilities and urban planners and then help determine specific strategies that those sectors can use to address management priorities. The Self-Assessment tool will help communities understand what is impeding combined policies and planning and methods that can be used to overcome those obstacles. The research team is also developing a Water and Planning Glossary that will include relevant terms in design, planning, and urban water management to increase understanding and communication between urban planners and water managers.

The recommendations show promise for a more integrated One Water approach and an interest from stakeholders in facilitating collaboration. Alternative supply methods can help alleviate water supply shortages and water quality problems across the country. However, ensuring more-effective and deeper coordination usually needs support from leadership in both the water and planning departments. Communities should coordinate long-range plans and coordinate codes and regulations to advance the development of alternative water supplies and inform additional approaches.

About The Author

Kelsey Beveridge is the technical writer at The Water Research Foundation, where she is responsible for writing newsletters, press releases, and article publications. Her writing has covered a variety of the Foundation’s research topics, including treatment technologies, opportunities for water reuse, integrated water systems, and nutrient recovery. Previously, she worked for a breast cancer nonprofit where she managed fundraising opportunities for the organization across the East Coast.