In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, January 5, the Severance Town Board approved the Town’s updated Comprehensive Plan, taking a critical first step in integrating water conservation into their land use decision-making processes.
“The water element of our Comprehensive Plan will have many impacts on planning and development, but most importantly the inclusion of this language will bring about continued discussion surrounding water conservation for every planning document or decision that is proposed in the Town,” said Mitch Nelson, Severance’s Community Development Director.
Severance is a small but rapidly growing community in the Northern Front Range of Colorado. Founded in 1920, over the past 100-years the Town has grown from 40 residents to an estimated 7,300 people today. Increasing pressure on water resources has from population growth along the Front Range has driven the price of water up significantly over the last 20 years. As Severance passes a major milestone - its 100th year as an incorporated Town - the Plan will serve as an important advisory tool to support water resource management policies and opportunities that drive smart growth and development.
The Town collaborated with WaterNow through our Project Accelerator program to inform the water element of the Plan. “Severance recognized the Comprehensive Plan update and the Accelerator opportunity as a pivotal first step in beginning to better contemplate water conservation for the Town,” said Mr. Nelson. WaterNow, and our partner Western Resource Advocates, supported this effort by researching and compiling resources on best practices for including water in Comprehensive Plans, conducting informational interviews with other Colorado communities who had taken this step, presenting at Planning Commission and Town Board meetings, and drafting and finalizing the water conservation element to include in the Plan. Additional insight and Plan review was provided by the Babbitt Center for Land & Water Policy given their extensive research on incorporating water into comprehensive plans.
The final Plan incorporated water and water conservation throughout, including in the Guiding Principles and Planning Influences sections, as well as a separate Water System Implementation section that included specific opportunities for improving water efficiency moving forward such as adopting water efficient landscape regulations and design criteria and coordinating with North Weld County Water District to develop conservation-oriented system development connection charges.
The transition from agriculture to denser commercial and residential development is a challenge and reality facing many rural Front Range communities. On Tuesday night, one comment from Trustee Michelle Duda was regarding language that could be perceived to deprioritize agricultural land use in favor of other more intensive uses – such as residential or commercial development. She stated, “part of what makes Severance great is the spots of agriculture and open space throughout the Town core”. After some discussion, the Trustees and Mr. Nelson were able to align on the addition of language to address this challenge by stating that agricultural priorities will be considered in the decision-making process.
The agricultural operations and open lands surrounding Severance contribute to the town’s cultural and economic connection to land and water, making the water element of the Comprehensive Plan a particularly valuable resource for the community. The policies included in the Plan aim to honor the Town’s agricultural heritage, while ensuring a reliable water supply for their growing population of residents.
The Town Board was overwhelmingly supportive of the Comprehensive Plan and thankful of staff’s efforts to move this process forward – despite the challenges that COVID-19 has posed over the past year. “I think this was a very successful process with citizen involvement and staff coming together to come up with a good product. I’m relieved and appreciative to get the Comp Plan passed and our next step is to start amending our land use code to address changes in the Plan,” said Mitch.
WaterNow is excited to see Severance’s thoughtful planning efforts guide the Town to grow sustainably and believe that their leadership can serve as a model for successfully incorporating water conservation into community development.