Growing Water Smart Reunion

Bringing past participants together to celebrate collaboration and progress

In January, we hosted a Growing Water Smart reunion with our Colorado and Arizona workshop alumni. Over 100 program participants joined the online event to celebrate the progress each team has made in reaching their unique water and land use goals. In partnership with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, a center of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Sonoran Institute has created a network of communities that are working toward a sustainable future for the residents of the Colorado River Basin. These leaders work and live across the two states: “Over the past 5 years we have held 8 workshops, we have trained 39 teams, representing 65 towns, cities, and counties in Colorado and Arizona,” said Faith Sternlieb, senior program manager at Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy. In Colorado more than 60% of the population lives in a community that has taken part in the workshops, and in Arizona it is growing rapidly. To date, more than 20% of Arizonans live in a community that has come to the workshops, and by the end of March nearly 40% will.

“Over the past 5 years we have held 8 workshops, we have trained 39 teams, representing 65 towns, cities, and counties in Colorado and Arizona.” –Faith Sternlieb

Our CEO, Mike Zellner, highlighted that the Growing Water Smart program’s importance grows as drought and aridification continue: “Never in our 30-year history have we faced the challenges that were facing now or has our mission been as urgent as it is now.” Because of growing climate change and expansion of Western communities, the importance of the Growing Water Smart program and continued collaboration with alumni is vital for a resilient and thriving Colorado River Basin. 

Two keynote presentations highlighted Apache Junction, Arizona’s One Water Policies and Grand County, Colorado’s Drought Preparedness Program. “These inspirational presentations provided a chance for dialogue between experts, and the chance to share case studies of best practices that can be adopted in other places that rely on Colorado River water,” said Waverly Klaw, director of resilient communities and watersheds.

Apache Junction: One Water Policy

Apache Junction’s development services director, Larry Kirch, discussed the community’s One Water Policy which was newly incorporated into their General Plan. The city has implemented low-impact development and reclaimed water standards that must be met by any new development, including those acquired through state trust land auctions. The city focuses on several water conservation methods to make the best use of renewable water supplies and water use strategies. 

These methods were put into action in the most recent auction of a 3,000-acre development where they found that integrated water resource management policies specified in the city’s general plan and subdivision regulations were not enough, and that weaving the One Water Policy standards into the zoning code would improve future auction processes. So, they moved to create consistency across the general plan, subdivision code, and zoning code to improve the implementation of One Water.

Apache Junction from Flatiron Trail.

The Policy, which places focus on surface water, aquifer storage, groundwater recharge facilities, effluent re-use, and rainwater harvesting, is especially important in prolonged drought. Apache Junction strives to ensure that the water resources for new developments will be planned holistically and strategically so that the community keeps Growing Water Smart!

Grand County: Drought Preparedness Program 

Grand County, Colorado’s water quality specialist, Kayli Foulk, presented the approaches the county developed for community engagement and awareness to correspond with distinct levels of drought. While participation in the drought program is voluntary for entities in the county, they offer a wide range of tools to send consistent and effective messaging to the public, including social media posts, e-mail templates, videos, digital and print ads.

Rocky Mountains and pine forests of Winter Park, Colorado during Fall.

Grand County Drought Preparedness Program outlines 4 stages of drought management: 

  • Watch: all residents are encouraged to use water efficiently and prepare for the possibility of watering restrictions 
  • Stage 1: outdoor watering is mildly restricted by time and percentage 
  • Stage 2: outdoor watering is further restricted, and water providers can implement drought pricing plans 
  • Stage 3: outdoor watering for residents is restricted entirely, indoor rationing recommended, and agriculture implements the highest level of restrictions. 

A focus on easy to digest graphics and guidelines, and their use of inclusive language helps community members feel motivated to be part of the solution. This approach reduces feelings of guilt—or the urge to blame—that might otherwise reduce public interaction. We commend Grand County for their work encouraging everyone to “help out during drought” and for sharing their innovative plan with the Growing Water Smart network! 

Growing Water Smart is a joint program of Sonoran Institute and the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, a center of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. 

The next workshops will take place in March for Arizona participants. The next Colorado cohort will begin in June. Future events and opportunities will be listed online. 

Blog post by Kashja Iler, marketing intern and Corinne Matesich, marketing communications manager.