New EPA ‘Smart Growth’ Release – “Growing Toward More Efficient Water Use: Linking Development, Infrastructure, and Drinking Water Policies”

Posted February 2006

Growth affects the costs of water infrastructure, demand for water, and the efficiency of water delivery. However, this relationship is a dynamic one: water policies influence growth decisions and outcomes—which, in turn, affect infrastructure and water resources. This report focuses on the nexus between water and growth. Part I summarizes the challenges of meeting demand for safe drinking water. Part II asks: “Is there a way to accommodate growth that minimizes its effects on water consumption and distribution costs?” Part III asks: “What water policies can support this type of growth?”

Common characteristics of new conventional growth—large lots, low density, and dispersed development—can all increase the cost of delivering water. Homes on large lots and commercial facilities often consume large quantities of water for lawns and landscaping. Low-density, dispersed development requires longer pipes, which lose more water through leakage and raise transmission costs. Infrastructure investments that support water system expansion over upgrading and maintenance of existing networks can lead to increasingly inefficient systems, greater waste, and higher capital and operating costs.

Applying smart growth principles can significantly reduce the costs of water provided by communities and the quantity of water demanded by their residents. More compact development allows for shorter transmission systems, making them more efficient to operate and less susceptible to water loss through leakage. Encouraging compact neighborhood design with smaller lots reduces water demand for landscaping. Directing development to areas served by existing infrastructure and maintaining that infrastructure can make systems more efficient.

Provincial, regional, and local governments and utilities can adopt water policies that conserve water and reduce demand for it, while indirectly supporting smarter growth patterns. Policy choices include focusing on fixing and upgrading existing infrastructure, setting prices for water that reflect its full cost, better coordinating water and land-use planning, using innovative water financing mechanisms, and encouraging water-saving landscaping. Public advisory boards can help governments and utilities to choose those policies that will best fit local conditions. This report includes examples of places that have tried these policies, which can further inform the choices of other areas.

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An online version of this publication is available by clicking here.

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