Clean, Wet, and Smart, Part V



Land use affects water quality, water use, and the integrity and health of watersheds.  The last few years have seen a growing level of attention to how aquatically responsible land use and development might be defined and actually achieved.  This blog posting is the fifth in a series of posts highlighting articles that address the legal and policy intersections of land and water.  In this posting, I refer to an excellent article by the University of Utah’s Lincoln Davies on “assured supply” laws that condition approvals of land use projects on developers showing that they have reliable supplies of water to support the new development.  Professor Davies explores the ways by which these laws can discourage or encourage sprawl, depending on the circumstances and how the laws are designed.


Lincoln Davies, "Just a Big, 'Hot Fuss'? Assessing the Value of Connecting Suburban Sprawl, Land Use, and Water Rights Through Assured Supply Laws," 34 Ecology Law Quarterly 1217 (2007): Available at SSRN:  




States and localities increasingly recognize the need to link land use and water supply planning. As the populace grows and sprawl continues, the strain on available natural resources, particularly water, makes this recognition all the more important. This Article addresses an increasingly common type of this planning link "assured supply" laws that require developers to prove they have secured adequate water stock before commencing construction. The Article performs a qualitative analysis of the potential benefits and costs of such laws and finds that, on balance, assured supply laws provide at least five significant benefits: consumer protection, greater holistic project- and agency-level planning, improved efficiencies in water rights allocation, and increased water conservation. Notably, however, these laws appear to do very little to diminish sprawl and, if designed incorrectly, may actually exacerbate it. The Article then extracts five dimensions around which localities might design their assured supply laws to maximize their benefits and minimize possible costs, concluding that such laws are most likely to deliver optimal benefits when they are (1) mandatory, (2) stringent, (3) statewide, (4) broadly applicable, applying to more than only large projects, and (5) interconnected with broader land-water and environmental planning mechanisms.