Net Blue Toolkit to Help Communities Pursue Water-Neutral Growth

Alliance for Water Efficiency, Environmental Law Institute, and River Network Propose a Practical Path to Connect Land Use and Water Resources through Water Demand Offsets


Net Blue Logo smallerAs population growth increases pressure on finite water supplies, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, Environmental Law Institute, and River Network today launched the Net Blue Ordinance Toolkit to help communities pursue sustainable development without increasing overall water demands.

Water managers in 40 out of 50 states anticipate water shortages within the coming years, according to a 2013 Government Accountability Office survey. Communities in some water-stressed areas already face limits to their development caused by insufficient water supplies.

“Communities urgently need to address the disconnect between land use decisions and water resources if they are to enjoy continued population and economic growth,” said Mary Ann Dickinson, President and CEO, Alliance for Water Efficiency. “Water managers, planners, and developers must come together to think about growth differently. Net Blue makes it easier to connect these dots, with community-vetted tools, a standardized methodology, and a clear process for pursuing successful water-neutral growth.”

Water-neutral growth ordinances can either require or incentivize residential and commercial developments to offset their projected additional water demand through water-efficient retrofits of existing development. Offset measures such as fixture and appliance replacements, rainwater harvesting and storm water capture, can allow development without increasing the overall water demand. Water efficiency stretches existing supplies, decreases the need for new infrastructure, and preserves water for fish, wildlife, and recreation.

“Net Blue is an important piece of the puzzle for local communities to help keep more water in their rivers for fishing, swimming, and other needs,” said Nicole Silk, President, River Network. “Although Net Blue 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 of our waterways and groundwater resources.”

The Toolkit is designed to help communities facing diverse challenges to find the solution that best matches their water supply situation, governance structures, and conservation opportunities. The Model Ordinance Worksheet guides users through the development of a water-offset ordinance tailored to their political climate, legal framework, and environmental conditions. The Offset Methodology Workbook helps evaluate and select strategies to offset the projected new potable water use.

“Municipalities, counties, and utilities across the country have been addressing water supply challenges in innovative ways,” said Adam Schempp, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Institute. “Through this collaborative project, we have tried to make one of those approaches easier to develop, and thoughtfully, in many different circumstances.”

More than a dozen communities have implemented a water demand offset policy to help enable new construction that likely would have been prohibited due to supply constraints, according to a 2015 report from the Alliance for Water Efficiency entitled Water Offset Policies for Water-Neutral Community Growth.

“Santa Fe has had a tremendous response over the past 20 years to several water offset conservation programs,” said Kyle Harwood, Net Blue Advisor and Partner, Egolf + Ferlic + Harwood. “These programs, with the support of Santa Fe residents, have allowed for increased economic prosperity and increased water resource resiliency. I urge anyone interested in this topic to review the Net Blue materials as they contain the practical experience of implementation from Santa Fe and other communities around the country.”

The Net Blue Ordinance Toolkit was created with the input of a Project Advisory Committee composed of experts in water resources, water law, and planning and zoning. Partner communities across the country, including Acton, Mass.; San Francisco, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Cobb County, Ga.; Madison, Wis.; and Bozeman, Mont., provided input to ensure adaptability in areas with diverse political climates, legal frameworks, and environmental challenges.

“Metropolitan Atlanta has experienced explosive growth and is an area of the country anticipated to continue to grow,” said Kathy Nguyen, Senior Project Manager at Cobb County Water System. “The area did not grow around rich water resources. Net Blue provides a tool for communities in metropolitan Atlanta to continue to grow, but to allow that growth to happen within the limits of our water resources.”

The Net Blue Ordinance Toolkit and additional resources can be accessed at

About the Alliance for Water Efficiency:
The Alliance for Water Efficiency is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the efficient and sustainable use of water in the United States and Canada. Headquartered in Chicago, the Alliance works with more than 400 water utilities, water conservation professionals in business and industry, planners, regulators, and consumers. AWE delivers innovative tools and training to encourage cost-effective water conservation programs, conducts cutting-edge research, and pursues programs and policies necessary for a sustainable water future. In 2014 the Alliance won the U.S. Water Prize in the non-profit category for its work. For more information, visit

About the Environmental Law Institute:
The Environmental Law Institute makes law work for people, places, and the planet. With its non-partisan, independent approach, ELI promotes solutions to tough environmental problems. The Institute’s unparalleled research and highly respected publications inform the public debate and build the institutions needed to advance sustainable development. For more information, visit
About River Network:
River Network’s mission is to empower and unite people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain all life. We envision a future with clean and ample water for people and nature. Founded in 1988, River Network provides information, support, publications, and training to help coalitions, groups, and individuals concerned with river and water issues do their work more effectively. For more information, visit 

For inquiries, please contact:
Megan Chery, Alliance for Water Efficiency
(773) 360-5100