Water Neutral Growth requires projected water demand of new development be offset with water efficiency measures so the impact to service area water demand is net neutral. The Alliance for Water Efficiency, the Environmental Law Institute and River Network collaboratively created the Net Blue model ordinance template, user’s guide and customized example ordinances for communities to use and develop their own context-specific water-neutral growth ordinance.


The Alliance for Water Efficiency reviewed communities throughout the United States that currently have a water demand offset policy or water-neutral growth policy in place. Findings and a literature review were released in the report, Water Offset Policies for Water-Neutral Community Growth.

The Environmental Law Institute led the charge on developing the model ordinance and support tools. The effort resulted in:

  • A Model Ordinance worksheet that guides a user through the decisions that tailor the ordinance to the specific context and challenges of the locality.
  • A Model Ordinance User’s Guide details how the worksheet functions, explains the various prompts and provides tips for maximizing the potential of the worksheet.
  • Three Net Blue ordinance examples demonstrate the diverse outputs of the worksheet and some of the many problems, actors, and constraints that it can accommodate.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency also offers a downloadable Excel spreadsheet that can be used to show methods for calculating water offsets and customized to reflect local conditions.  Project applicants, municipal officials, lawyers, water utility staff and others can use this tool to calculate the offsets needed for new development and how to achieve them. The Offset Methodology can calculate off-site water conservation measures and water harvesting and capture capacities. All calculations are open source.

Feedback from seven geographically and environmentally diverse communities informed the development of the final model ordinance toolkit. Over a two-year period, the Net Blue team met with a variety of stakeholders including water utilities and managers, planners, developers, environmental and community groups in these communities to review and vet draft materials. The seven communities are:

  1. Acton, Massachusetts
  2. Cobb County, Georgia
  3. Austin, Texas
  4. Madison, Wisconsin
  5. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  6. Bozeman, Montana
  7. San Francisco, California

The Net Blue Project Team, lead by Net Blue Project Partner River Network, will spend 2017 conducting outreach and developing useful resources for communities and organizations to use in their efforts to raise awareness of Net Blue concepts, explain the positive benefits of offsets on local water supply, and promote the development and adoption of  water-neutral growth ordinances.

Net Blue ordinance chart
This flowchart depicts how an offset ordinance might be incorporated into a municipal or county Planning and Zoning process. (Photo Credit: Alliance for Water Efficiency).


Case Study Resources

  • Challenges:
  • drought
  • waterconservation
  • Scale:
  • community