The Real Estate Industry and the Western Drought Dilemma, the Urban Land Institute, Highlights from ULI's Fall Meeting

October 4, 2015

Many stories have been written about the shortage of water in the U.S. West, and about the many actions cities and states have taken to manage their local supply. A panel at the 2015 ULI Fall Meeting addressed why it is now imperative that real estate developers think about securing their own water supply and not rely on what used to be a municipal responsibility.

Asked how developers can help solve regional supply problems, Thomas Iseman, deputy assistant secretary for water and science, U.S. Department of the Interior, said it is as simple as having the real estate community involved. According to Iseman, the conversation needs to move beyond the public sector and there needs to be more organizations like ULI that convene the private sector to help raise awareness about the need for new investments in water infrastructure.

Thomas DiPrima, president, southern California urban operations, KB Home, said this is already beginning to happen since both building owners and landowners are getting penalized for not having infrastructure that is up to date. KB Home is taking a proactive approach to sustainability and resource management through new products: its Double ZeroHome achieves net zero energy use and net zero freshwater irrigation use through an innovative water recyling system and its ability to produce as much energy as it consumes. The Double ZeroHome is featured in Returns on Resilience: The Business Case, a ULI collection of case studies that demonstrates the value creation that results from investing in resilience and sustainability measures.

Matthew J. Diserio, president and cofounder, Water Asset Management LLC, said the solution goes beyond prioritizing water infrastructure projects. He emphasized the need for developers and public officials to partner with the agriculture community—which currently consumes a majority of the water supply—so that there is more supply for their projects. While he stresses the need for partnerships and conversation, he said that they will not solve the overall problem. While some developers and municipalities have experimented with saltwater desalination plants, they need to continue finding ways to create new water resources.