Free From the Sky - Water Resources and the Silver City Land Use Code

Van Clothier, Denise Smith
August, 2010

WHEREAS: Water is one of the most valuable resources in this dryland community. Developing, operating and maintaining well water and delivery systems is expensive. Town wells deplete the aquifer, and electricity must be used to pump this water uphill, where it originally came from. Meanwhile, storm water runoff from urban hardscape (roofs, roads, etc.) produces way more water than all the wells combined, and can deliver it for free directly to one thousand places. In this remote mountain community, rainwater from metal roofs can easily be filtered to meet the most stringent drinking water standards. Water from roads and parking lots is ideal for irrigating fruit and nut trees, shrubs and grass to benefit our whole community. Greywater recycling to irrigate the landscape is another water resource that can reduce the burden on our well water delivery infrastructure. At present, our codes, and ordinances, as well as the institutional culture of our town do not recognize the value of stormwater or greywater, and cause us to spend huge sums of money to dispose of this valuable resource in a very destructive way. Note that if the budgets for water delivery, street repair, stormwater disposal, and erosion control. were viewed as one, it would make economic sense to start making changes right away. In this era of stalled economic recovery, we must become more practical and more frugal. It should be relatively easy for tiny Silver City to follow the lead of Tucson (who has adopted a water harvesting ordinance), and even improve upon what they have started.

THEREFORE: The Silver City Land Use Code will treat rainwater, snow and stormwater runoff, and greywater as important water resources, and substantial changes to the draft Land Use Code will be made to cost effectively optimize the benefits our community will receive from all of this water. This will naturally improve public safety and security in many important ways. The basic design of new streets and stormwater facilities will be changed, old streets and drainage systems will be retrofitted over time to take fair advantage of this water before sending it out of town in the big ditch more slowly and in a cleaner condition. Since part of the problem and its solution is on private land, a new program will be started when funds become available to teach property owners how to safely harvest water from their roofs and landscapes for their own benefit, and to eliminate their contribution to runoff and erosion problems. Irrigation of landscaping with greywater will be required in new subdivisions and residential and commercial development. These changes will not be cleverly diluted in committees, so that the original intent will be made into a law that will accrue the most benefit to the people of our town in the long run. In addition, the council will direct staff to immediately start learning about water harvesting and greywater, and promoting it in their departments and in their interactions with the public. The floodplain manager will be directed to interpret the new Land Use Code very conservatively, keeping foremost the health of the watershed and the benefits of the waters to the people of our town.