Water Neutral Growth? Check out Net Blue

Here in North Carolina, water levels in streams and rivers are declining. Rapid growth, increased consumptive water use and climate change are all contributing factors that place drinking water supplies at-risk. This mirrors what we found across the Southeast in our report on Protecting and Restoring Flows in this region. Water scarcity now threatens many places in the U.S., often in areas experiencing high growth pressure.

What if communities could make it so that new development was required to somehow offset their projected net increase in water to keep water use “neutral” or even reduced?

The good news – the Net Blue project provides a toolkit that communities can use to create just such a locally tailored policy that will link water and land use. Created by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the Environmental Law Institute and River Network, this approach can support sustainable community growth.

“Net Blue” is an approach to keep water use at the same or reduced levels as a community continues to develop. This concept of “water neutral” growth is achieved by integrating land use planning and water management to require or incentivize water use offsets (e.g., water efficiency retrofits – like replacing old inefficient toilets and washing machines in existing building with new high efficiency ones) that will equal or exceed the additional demand of new development or redevelopment (residential and commercial). By choosing to adopt an ordinance or incentive that requires or encourages this approach, communities can stretch their water supplies, decrease the need for new infrastructure, and help ensure more water for fish, wildlife and recreation as well as provide other benefits.

Materials include a model ordinance toolkit that can be used in any community – by asking and answering a series of questions, the community can populate a draft ordinance that can then be reviewed and refined through community engagement. Additionally, there are technical materials to support the development and calculation of water offsets.

Using a Net Blue approach can help to prevent further depletion of our rivers, streams and aquifers by reducing the current amount of water withdrawn or preventing the need for increased withdrawals. Although this approach may not automatically translate into more water for our rivers, it is one important tool to reduce demand for highly treated water, taking some pressure off our waterways and groundwater resources.

Learn more at the Net Blue website including an FAQ. Also – a recording of the Alliance for Water Efficiency’s excellent webinar on Net Blue and how it can be applied can be found here. Check it out and then think about whether this could be a good fit for your community…

Look for a follow up webinar on the technical aspects of developing an offset scheduled for September 6, as well as an introduction webinar for community groups on September 13.