Researching Urban Hydro-Sustainability

I’m fortunate to be part of a transdisciplinary research collaborative that’s just received a $10,000 Institute for Enterprise Ethics grant from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business for a project entitled “Front Range Urbanism and Hydro-Sustainability.”  It has long been recognized that the key variable affecting the quality of Colorado Front Range urban life and growth is water. Accordingly, any city-building enterprise in the region must be informed by a sustainability ethic that centers on water.   Our research topic is the water conservation values, policies, strategies and technologies that have been identified by Front Range planners and developers as important for guiding urban growth in the region. We will evaluate the efficacy of current and recommended water utilization policies and practices for supporting sustainable urbanism along the Front Range.

Colorado Front Range near Louisville, north of Denver

The proposal was stimulated by a series of investigative reports, op-ed pieces, and reader letters that appeared in The Denver Post debating the recently approved development of Sterling Ranch, a community planned for the Chatfield Basin south of Denver.   Organized as a clustered arrangement of 7 “urban villages”, Sterling Ranch would contain over 12,000 homes and 31,000 people over a 20+ year horizon.  It is estimated that the project will generate over 9,000 permanent jobs.  Although promoted as a model of high density development having a progressive and praiseworthy water conservation plan, Sterling Ranch has nonetheless raised serious questions about where such planned communities will get their water and whether their water usage will be sustainable over the long haul.

Our research will seek specific answers to these and other questions about the hydro-sustainability of planned community developments along the Front Range.   The framing questions of the research include:

  • How much reliable water is available to planned suburban and exurban development? What are its sources?
  • What projections exist for required housing stock and non-residential construction over the next 5-10 years?  One high growth area in Colorado Springs is expected to be military housing. What other high growth areas are predicted for Front Range cities?
  • How likely is it that current and projected construction can be supported given the water that’s available?
  • What water conservation and storage methods hold out the most promise for sustaining urban growth into the future?
  • How might cultural variables complicate planning for Front Range suburban and exurban water use?

We will use our findings about current and projected water capacities and utilization, and our evaluation of proposed water conservation values, methods and techniques, to identify constraints on Front Range urban and suburban growth and project the future of urban hydro-sustainability in the area.  Will seek to publish our findings and recommendations in the Journal of Real Estate Sustainability.

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About Dean Saitta

I'm a Professor of Anthropology and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Denver.
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