The Arizona Drought Plan requires that community water systems conduct drought planning by submitting a water system plan every five years that includes a drought preparedness plan. The State issues drought stage reports that water systems use to impose water use restrictions that vary by drought stage. Drought planning is intended to reduce vulnerability to drought and to ensure that water providers and communities are prepared to respond to drought or water shortage conditions. However, the state requirement and most drought plans focus on water use restrictions by existing water uses, do not require or mention land use considerations, and are reactive rather than incorporating long-term adaptation planning.

While Arizona has a good drought monitoring and response program in place, drought plans focus on short-term response. To comprehensively address drought resiliency, drought planning should include long-term strategies as well. This focus will support planning for the necessary land use and water infrastructure changes that take years to implement, and will need to be incorporated into planning documents and zoning regulations.

Case Study: American Planning Association Report: Planning and Drought

This excellent report on planning for drought includes an overview of drought impacts on water resources and a chapter devoted to how planners, including land use planners, can address drought. It discusses various types of drought plans and notes that many current planning decisions already affect drought resiliency, which can be the basis for additional drought planning efforts. These include decisions about urban form, which influences water demand. For example, land use decisions that support compact development are drought resiliency decisions.

Water conservation helps communities be more prepared for drought, and the better a community can manage its limited water resources through demand management and other strategies, the more it will be able to support economic development during drought.

The report observes that general plans, area plans, zoning, codes, and ordinances are all tools to integrate drought resiliency measures, including water efficiency standards such as drought-resistant landscapes. Early integrated planning can build community resilience and facilitate a more rapid recovery from drought. Including water providers in the land-use planning process in order to coordinate data, policies, and actions, and involving land-use planners in drought planning to avoid conflicting policies and duplicating actions is needed to develop effective long-term strategies.

While Arizona communities have drought plans that are part of a state required water management plan (depending on the size of the community), these drought plans should be thoroughly integrated with general and comprehensive plans. Ideally, an in-house drought and climate action planning team or someone with knowledge in this area is helpful to facilitate inter-departmental coordination among, for example, planning and zoning, economic development, water utility, and public works departments. A few long-term drought mitigation actions include tracking the effectiveness of drought measures, preparing ordinances, and identifying leaks, as well as a public education program with long-term strategies.

The report identifies the following best management planning practices based on case studies:

  • Develop regulations and modify existing regulations, including water conservation ordinances, and require sustainability goals (like water conservation) in developer agreements, rezoning approvals, and performance standards;
  • Include information on drought in existing plan documents (comprehensive plans, climate action plans, and hazard mitigation plans);
  • Undertake an integrated, cooperative approach to water supply management on a watershed or basin-wide level, either formally or informally through existing planning frameworks;
  • Share data and tools for monitoring, mitigating, and responding to drought with stakeholders; and
  • Diversify the water supply

Model Drought Planning Report:

American Planning Association Planning and Drought Report (Report No. 574) APA Planning & Drought Report


American Planning Association
Phone: 202.872.0611

Additional Resources

  • EPA has also produced a report on Adaptation Strategies Guide for Water Utilities, which can be found here.
  • The U.S. Climate Change Toolkit also contains good information on planning and land use, which can be found here.
  • The America Planning Association has also developed Drought Mitigation Resources, which can be viewed here.

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