Higher Density Housing Is Water-Wise


For a lot of reasons, proposals to increase the stock of high-density, affordable housing in any town are always met with opposition by some residents. Some of the reasons are terrible, and I just wrote a letter about that. But some opposition follows much more reasonable lines, such as this worry about water resources.

Before we tackle water, let’s examine the implicit, possibly unconscious argument behind all opposition, which is that Los Alamos shouldn’t increase its population or its stock of housing, but should stay the same or shrink. That’s a perfectly legit point of view, but this is actually a settled issue and that’s not where we landed. In 2016 we made a Comprehensive Plan together, all of us living here at the time were invited to pitch in, and in this plan we agreed to take on modest growth. The Lab is hiring a lot more people, those people want to live here, and we want them to live here. We need more homes for teachers and firefighters, too. Our 2019 Housing Study makes clear that the current housing supply is not keeping up with demand.

That answers the question: we’re growing, and we need more housing. Given those facts, but also taking into account very legitimate water concerns, what kind of housing makes the best use of limited resources? High-density housing. If you want wasteful housing, look to single-family homes. Those kinds of homes, especially with big lawns, use an enormous amount of water. You can look at Los Alamos’s water use over the year and see it spike dramatically in the summer — it’s not because we’re drinking more lemonade. A several-story apartment/condo building uses far less water per person than a few single-family homes on the same square footage of land. This is pretty obvious when you think about it.

With the understanding that Los Alamos is growing, people have to live somewhere, and we have limited resources (land, water), the only sensible policy is to build denser, taller, more efficient housing. This policy accords with our plans, our planners, and citizen surveys have said.