40– Zoned & Watered, Jake Powell explains how policy shapes community

October 27, 2020 Utah State University Office of Research Episode 40
40– Zoned & Watered, Jake Powell explains how policy shapes community
Show Notes Transcript

Last week's conversation with Environmental planner Jake Powell continues. This episode focuses on how policy shapes communities. Learn how zoning affects housing needs in rural and gateway communities. Jake also talks about 3 strategies communities are using to wisely manage water.  He describes how communities can build resilience on both an economical and social level. Jake focuses on towns that have a potential to be "boom or bust" as they evolve, and the ways they can keep a name for themselves and prevent future diminishment

Jake Powell: [00:00:00] Ogden has experienced this renaissance in both its architecture and its community, and because they've set a vision for themselves, community members and organizations and businesses are coming to that community to match and build on that vision.


Wyatt : [00:00:14] Last week, Jay Powell explained why it's important for growing communities to have a vision.


Jake Powell: [00:00:19] People with a vision come in and set the vision if your community doesn't already have it.


Wyatt : [00:00:24] Instead is coming to you from Utah State University's Office of Research. Today, my conversation with Jake Powell continues, you'll hear how policy shapes our communities, it determines how water is used and how people live before Jake Powell with a U.S. extension specialist. He was a USU student. 


Jake Powell: [00:00:45] During my time as a landscape architecture student here, larger scale, longer timeline type ideas drew me into the universe of environmental planning. I then went and did my master's degree at Penn State. They have a center for watershed stewardship.


Wyatt : [00:01:02] Today, Jake is going to tell you about some Weber County land owners who took a grass roots approach to watershed stewardship.You'll also hear about a southern Utah town using an Uber like surge pricing model to make the most of the water they have. And you'll hear about the challenges that might be keeping your community from switching to a dual water delivery system. Before we talk about water, we're going to talk about zoning and how zoning policy shapes communities and determines who can afford to live in them. My name is Wyatt  and you could be raking leaves in silence, but you are listening to this instead.On November 18th, Jake Powell and his colleague David Anderson from Episode 38 will be presenting in a virtual research landscapes event called Finding Our Sense of Place. I put a link in the description if you want to attend. Way back in August, we had a research landscapes about national parks and the growing challenges the surrounding communities are facing. My first question for Jake comes from something I learned there.


Wyatt : [00:02:09] One of the things that I picked up on from that was that because of covid-19 and then also just because of interest in this outdoor adventure lifestyle, there is a lot of people moving to Utah and other similar places. And my hometown back in Idaho, most of the zoning requires you to have 40 acres to build a home, and that's to preserve the rural lifestyle and the and those values and how we grew up. But what are some of the consequences of that kind of policy and what are some of the other policy things that these communities are dealing with with all this growth?


Jake Powell: [00:02:47] We see that a lot across the west. Where. The mentality of we have lots of land, so let's spread everybody out so it feels like we have lots of land, it works for a little while, but there's at some point when you have so many people all owning 40 acres, everybody owns a little bit of paradise and then 40 acre lots preserves a visual, maybe appearance of rural, but it doesn't get at the heart of what makes rural rural. It's only the it's sort of a shell of of the Las Vegas version of a rural. Right. Like you're not really at Caesar's Palace just because there's some columns and stucco that look like Caesar's Palace. The idea behind it. And so if you think about that. That way of developing land to preserve rural, pretty soon no one can make a living on 40 acres of alfalfa or something, you know, you still need those large pieces of land to support rural agriculture, for example. So by cutting and chopping it all up, it might look rural. But pretty soon everybody just owns a little ranch up. And rural isn't rural any longer. And I think that mentality needs to be thought through a little more because we've seen that time and time again. And what it what it feeds is this idea of sprawl of and at the end of the day, we have policies that are facilitating large expanses of road networks, pipes and utility lines and natural gas lines, all this effort to allow us to spread out and then over time, the cost for a community in the cost of it for an individual when we do all that spreading becomes so burdensome that communities can't function any longer.


Jake Powell: [00:04:42] They're spending all of their budgets, just maintaining all of the roads that they've built so that all of us can live far away. And then we're mad because we can't all come together at the city park on the Fourth of July. The city doesn't have any money to fund to fund the carnival that brings the community together. Because we've spread so far out that one. We've lost the sense of community. We don't really have a sense of place as well as we don't have the money because we spent it all on maintaining roads and power lines so that we could all get out in the boonies. That's a western white issue that like big we got plenty of land, so let's use it up. That mentality pervades. And it's like I said, it worked for a long time, but it's it's definitely going to be something in the future that we're all going to have to grapple with.


Wyatt : [00:05:29] If I want to move back to where my family is, I have to have enough money to buy that much land and then I have to have enough money to build a custom home. I'm competing with retirees from Los Angeles or San Francisco, so I'm priced out of a rural place.


Jake Powell: [00:05:50] Well, what you're what you're pointing out is, is sort of this issue that we're seeing across the west of community saying, well, our kids can't live here anymore. You know, little Wyatt can't move back and and be close to mom and dad or grandma, like, even if your heart is there and they might say, well, well, can't, why at work from anywhere. He does that newfangled thing at the university and he just records people over the Internet. Why can't he work from from anywhere? Well, hypothetically, you can work from anywhere, but you're exactly right. If you can't afford 40 acres and a custom home built at immense prices because contractors are having to travel long distances to build those homes, you can't live in that town. And and so we have this significant generation of people that are your age and my age that are having a really hard time finding a place to live because we're creating the the policies and the infrastructure that the prices them automatically out of being able to live there. And so a lot of the demographics, as I mentioned, that are that are really shifting in these communities are favoring people with a lot of money that are not from there by virtue of the of the systems and policies that we've created in these communities.


Wyatt : [00:07:17] Yeah. So that's how somebody gets priced out of a tiny town in the middle of Idaho or maybe a tiny town in middle of Utah. How does somebody get if somebody grew up in Springdale or in Moab, what is there how do they get priced out?


Jake Powell: [00:07:31] It's not that much different, honestly. It's it's it's a free market and people are looking for desirable places, at least for me. The irony of a lot of these towns are they were not desirable places to live for a very long time. You know, they were uranium mining towns. They were hard rock mineral mining towns like Park City or Vail or Jackson Hole. The irony of them being desirable to the point where, you know, only the millionaires can live. There is really an irony that I think would be funny to talk to some pioneer or uranium miner in the sixties and in the case of Moab. But in a place like Moab, you have people with significant resources that are moving to these communities that they visited once or twice or many times kind of home in the places where they love to visit. I hear that quite a bit across the state of Utah, even in small towns like this is a place we used to come hiking with our family for years and years and years. We always wanted to live here and. So we bought a second home here or built a cabin here and really so it's just that law of supply and demand, there's there's not enough places for people to live. And like just what you said, the homes that are being built are built for a certain type of person. And unless there's some diversity in the homes you're building or the home stock of your community. In the case of MOAB, the the river guide, the hotel worker, the elementary school teacher, the police officer, either their the homes that are being built or the existing home stock is outside their price range, or in the case of some of these really desirable communities, even like apartments, town homes, they're becoming out of reach economically because the wages in these communities hasn't haven't increased to keep up with the home prices.


Wyatt : [00:09:29] So what are maybe some of the levers that those communities could pull to? Incentivize people visiting and only visiting.


Jake Powell: [00:09:40] If you think through the process, if you were to limit housing stock and say we're only going to allow five hundred building permits a year or something like that, you again create a limited supply. And so in the face of high demand, those housing prices go up. If you build the massive amounts of housing to keep prices low and flood the market, you you lose the desirability of the community. So, you know, it's sort of those levers.They're pretty sensitive as you move them around. I think a lot of communities that are doing land practices, zoning practices and then development practices that create a diversity of housing, it does allow for, you know, the school teacher and the the service worker to have a place to actually live. If it's just laissez faire, they're going to continue to build the highest profit, quickest selling units that they can. And typically in today's market, where there's so much outside pressure and so much potential outside money, those are not the affordable units that keep the community fabric alive. It's a whole bunch of retirees and no one else can afford to live there. It really changes the fabric of the community. And so I think in anything, what we learn from environmental planning, from ecology is diversity is really important in ecological systems, but it's also equally important in social systems. It's about creating communities and communities require diversity to have resiliency. And so that's where a lot of what we talk about in the NAR initiative is trying to build resiliency in your community, both economically, socially, culturally, as well as the structure from housing to to infrastructure to streets that help these communities that tend to be boom and bust throughout their history, find a little bit more of a resilient path forward.


Wyatt : [00:11:41] Yeah, if somebody wanted more information because they're a community planner or citizen about the initiative, how would they get involved?


Jake Powell: [00:11:49] The initiatives like everywhere else our faces, our website, it's You talked Edu in that, that they can get information, they can RSVP for our our boomtown amenity migration series that's happening. And then in the spring, we're actually planning to host another series of webinars about this topic of resiliency, trying to give communities, planners and citizens some tools to talk and examples and a forum to have a conversation about resiliency moving forward in these communities.


Wyatt : [00:12:24] Yeah, yeah. Something else these communities need along with plans is water. What kind of challenges our communities, especially in southern Utah, are facing with water and what are some of the solutions that they are coming up with?


Jake Powell: [00:12:39] Yeah, that's a really great question for any community in the intermountain west. When John Wesley Powell explored the West and did his initial survey, he came back to Washington, D.C. with a really revolutionary idea. He said, this is sort of my geeky environmental planning standpoint. But he came back and he said water will be the limiting resource in the West. So it should be the unit upon which we plan everything. I'm I'm I'm paraphrasing or making up what he said his idea was, let's create political boundaries based on watersheds. And for those who don't know what a watershed it it is, it's the unit upon which all water flows to a single point. So they're divine. They're defined by topography. And so he said the state of Colorado should basically be the Colorado River watershed. The state of Idaho would probably be parts of the Snake River watershed. And then each county would be a sub watershed and each city would be a sub watershed. So therefore, you would control as a political entity the water that you need to sustain your populace, which is was really interesting. But we had we had survey techniques and stuff with straight lines and we ended up cutting up the West with political boundaries that are not synchronized to our watershed boundaries. And so we have issues like the Colorado River Compact where we're trying to negotiate the water that that's that is coming off as snow in Colorado, making sure that it gets used in in farms in California. And if somebody tries to catch some of that snow in a rain water barrel in Colorado, have they stole the water from the farmers in California because they have a legal right to it? We have all these really weird laws and things that are trying to manage water across political boundaries. So we have that problem in communities where the water they need and the water quality of that water is really defined by another community upstream. We see that a lot on the Wasatch Front in the fact that water that's delivered to Ogden or Salt Lake or Utah County is actually stored and managed up in the Wasatch Mountains by communities like Heber Coleville. What we spray on our landscapes, what we what we use when we brush our teeth is actually water coming from somewhere through a pipe. The quality of that water and the use of that water affects us both upstream and downstream. So I've worked a lot to try to help people make that mental connection, but also, you know, the physical landscapes that we create. And, you know, in your previous podcast with Dave Anderson, he talked a lot about the use of water on the landscape. We use we use over 60 percent of our culinary water. That's water that's been treated, that's drinking water quality. We spray on our landscapes in Utah. We inherited this mentality from our pioneer forefathers to make the desert bloom like a rose. When Brigham Young put his shovel in the ground and said, this is the place, people said, well, now I'm going to make a home and my home looks like Illinois or Wales or Scotland or wherever we came from. In order for something to be home, it needed to be green, lush and and highly watered. And so we as Idahoans, Utahns, Arizonan's, we, Arizonan's, Arizonians, I don't know either.We all inherited this vernacular of use of our landscape in order for it to be home needs to be green and lush. So in extension landscape architecture, we've been trying for decades really to to create. Or advocate for a new vernacular that we can celebrate the the plants and forms and colors of the intermountain west instead of superimposing the landscapes of Pennsylvania, Wales, Scotland, England, France on a Utah landscape, and then wondering why it's so resource intensive and from a planning and community standpoint, if we don't get that figured out at some point, that exponential growth line overcomes the limited water supply line and then we have to start making very hard decisions. And those hard decisions include which ecological service do we shortchange?


Wyatt : [00:17:25] Yeah. Um, so what things have some of the communities you've worked with started to do? What kind of policies are they turning to? How are they feeling their way through dealing with water resources?


Jake Powell: [00:17:38] A couple of examples that I can think of. Some work was done at Utah State University to help communities in in the Ogden area start to monitor their non treated, I guess, irrigation water for lack of better terms to water landscapes. There's two systems. There's one you drink that runs through your house and another system that you water with.


Wyatt : [00:17:59] My cousin had one they just had to tell, like, oh, you can't drink out of the hose here. You have to drink from the inside taps. Yes.


Jake Powell: [00:18:06] And a lot of us, myself included, grew up where it was all culinary water. You know, you drink out of the hose because it was all one system. Well, in order to minimize the amount of water we're treating and spraying on landscapes, they've created these secondary systems. Well, the problem with these secondary systems or one of the challenges, one of the challenges with these secondary systems is in many situations it's not metered, meaning you pay a flat fee. And if you and I are neighbors, Wyatt and I pay twenty dollars a month and you pay twenty dollars a month and we both can use as much water as we want, it really incentivizes conservation. And so in these communities, we were seeing pretty significant water use. And so what they did was they the irrigation companies put meters on pipes leading into the into your homes. And then Utah State University worked with the irrigation company to send reports to the homeowners. And these homeowners got a basically a comparison of how their water use stacked up against what data says they should be watering, as well as what their neighbors were watering. And so rather than a race to use the most water, it became a race socially to use the least water, which is really interesting. And they ended up I think it's called the water maps, Joanna. And our water is the one that does it. It's a really cool program. But basically there's some really interesting research on how when we know how much we use, how it changes our behavior a lot, we need to continue to use Colaneri water to irrigate because they know they can meter it and they know they'll be a price signal. So like in St George, if you use a lot of water, your water bill might be several hundred dollars a month in the summer. And and if they went to a secondary system where they weren't metering that, you wouldn't get that same price signal. I mean, there's another community in southeastern Utah that's trying to. Change the way their rate structures are set, and the idea is they're looking at water as a limited resource with a limited supply, and that supply adjusts every year. And what they were seeing is year after year in the spring, people would think there was a lot of water in there. Farmers and ranchers would plant water hungry crops across lots of different fields. And then midway through the year, everyone has used all the water. The reservoirs are dry and they basically have to say, sorry, no one in they have to start cutting water back. And then farmers who had invested in planting fields now had to watch them dry up and blow away, basically. And so the idea of the community was, well, what if we could project out how much water we were going to have by looking at the water in the snow, how deep, how much water is in our reservoirs? And then we could say basically that this year is a red year, meaning water prices are going to be really high because we have a very small quantity and very high demand, which is an interesting annual cycle that you go through that turns people into seeing a drought and recognizing that affects their own personal land, land use and water use.


Wyatt : [00:21:16] That I think is kind of interesting and kind of seems like surge pricing like on Uber.


Jake Powell: [00:21:22] But for water, you know, we're used to seeing that kind of pricing, but we're not used to seeing it when it comes to natural resources. So I think there needs to be somewhat of of a paradigm shift for us socially to recognize that these environmental resources are not unlimited. Seeing it from, you know, a surge pricing model, it might help us conserve more or at least be incentivized to conserve more.


Wyatt : [00:21:47] What is grassroots watershed planning?


Jake Powell: [00:21:50] So a lot of watershed planning happens from a very authoritative sort of top down level. Usually that's done it like the division of water quality is is mandated by the Clean Water Act, very data driven. How much nutrients per milligrams per thousand can be in water and everything. And it's really important stuff. But it tends to be, like I say, very authoritative. And what happens is those plans become rules and those rules become something that's superimposed on communities and and what grassroots watershed planning is, is really bringing people together to say what's important to you when it comes to this watershed. Before I came to Utah State, I worked as a watershed coordinator in the Webber River, and part of my role was to identify water quality issues or water quantity issues and then try to try to solve those problems. And so one of the problems that we recognized was in one of these really small watersheds, there was a lot of ecological things happening. It was important Barnesville, cutthroat trout habitat. It was really important wildlife habitat. It was a predominantly ranching watershed, entirely owned by private landowners. So it became this really interesting opportunity to to work with people that completely controlled the landscape. Their management decisions didn't need to be run through some sort of federal process or anything like we see in public lands that can sometimes bog down the responsiveness of them to deal with pressing challenges. So we started to look at this watershed in a really interesting thing happened there, the one bridge into all the ranches washed out in a flood. And so these families that had owned ranches for generations, that sometimes there was friction between the family and somebody great great grandfather did something and they didn't talk to each other for fifty years because of it. All the stuff you normally see in social systems, they had to come together to figure out how to fix this one access point into their all of their ranches. And it became a place that I worked with some partners. We kind of help these these these people work together on this bridge. And what it what it ended up opening up was this idea that if we all work together, we could do better things for the larger watershed realized where perhaps one rancher owned all the winter habitat for the deer and the other rancher owned all the summer habitat, and another rancher was the one that was selling hunting permits. For example, the last of the three people really was dependent upon the other two people managing their lands in a certain way. But his business model didn't necessarily reward them for their work to manage the landscape. So bringing these people together and having these conversations of how do we manage these areas collectively, the realization that they were all part of an interconnected system was like step one. And once we helped them realize that, then we could leverage their interests rather than necessarily their positions. And their positions were like, my grandfather and your grandfather hated each other, so we don't get along or you you always drive too fast down the road and that kicks up dust and all the stuff that drives you faster than you have.


Wyatt : [00:25:15] Washboard road. My gosh, those people are the worst. I would hate that.


Jake Powell: [00:25:19] I mean, all these things are, you know, pretty normal. What changes did they make? Yeah. So so my role was sort of facilitating this process instead of telling them, here are the experts and here's what they're going to tell you. We asked the group, we said, well, what do you what are you concerned about? They were concerned about a lot of things we were concerned about how do we do effective grazing, water quantity, you know, fish habitat. And we ranked all those things. And then we said, who would you like to come talk to you about these these really pressing topics? And then they actually gave us a lot of the same experts we were thinking about. In addition, they gave us experts we hadn't even thought about before. So then month after month, we would bring people in and they would talk about the very problems that these ranchers were interested in learning about. And some really interesting things happen. We had a person come in to talk about climate change, which is sometimes a hot topic in in agricultural communities. This person did a great job. One of his very first question was when your grandfather was a kid, when was the earliest they could get into the fences? That the lowest fences in this watershed? And they would say, well, you couldn't get in till middle of April when my grandfather was a kid. And there was sort of like this, the storytelling component. Right. And then he said, well, when when was the last or when do you guys get into your fence now? And they're like, oh, jeez, I can get in in February or whatever date. And they start to year these other stories. And all of a sudden there was this connection of things have changed. And it was interesting for me as this young new graduate student to listen to the local knowledge being shared. They had a far more acute understanding of climate change than probably anybody I had ever experienced, is because they were very closely tied to the land. And there was this beautiful moment where scientists from the national he was from NOAA and local knowledge like met eye to eye in this room and it changed the conversation. Then it was like, well, holy cow, what do you want to teach us? And he started to talk about, well, you know, that lack of snow in the in the winter and the pervasiveness of that snow turning now into more rain events like you're going to have much more all that snow that kind of trickled off all summer long is going to come off sooner. So your crops aren't going to be able to get water in August like they used to. So what I learned from that from this idea of grassroots watershed planning is that there's an immense amount of local knowledge. It's part of one reason I love working for extension is it does it does elevate local knowledge with academic knowledge.


Wyatt : [00:28:08] Yeah. Yeah. This all makes me wonder what would our world might look like if 30, 40 years ago news coverage about climate change, instead of interviewing politicians and researchers, they interviewed people who could see it in their family history?


Jake Powell: [00:28:28] Well, I think you'll find that a lot of people, if you ask them the right questions, they can recognize that things are different. They can recognize that in their communities. If you all of those stories have value, like what people observed has value and it needs to be it needs to be honored.


Jake Powell: [00:28:43] I think in the same vein as the data that tells you, you know, snow water or equivalent sea levels. And when we bring those things together, I think it helps all of our eyes get opened a little bit better.


Wyatt : [00:28:57] That was my conversation with Jake Powell. If you'd like more information about the Naas initiative or the research landscapes event Jake will be participating in, there's links in the description. Please make sure to subscribe to the instead podcast, share it with your friends and leave us a review. This episode of Instead was edited and produced by me, Wyatt. It's part of my work and the Office of Research at Utah State University.