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This issue brief is intended for town officials who want to understand how development regulations in their community affect local water resources. Municipal development codes – the set of regulations that control the built environment – can have a great influence on the availability of clean and healthy water for drinking, recreation, and commercial uses. This in turn affects the community’s social, environmental, and economic vitality.

Comprehensive plans, zoning codes, and building standards are just a few examples of regulations that intentionally or unintentionally regulate the way water is transported, collected and absorbed. Regulations that produce dispersed development or large amounts of impervious cover, for example, can impair stream water quality, worsen flooding, and reduce recharge of drinking water supplies. Auditing local development codes for such unintended consequences is an exercise that many communities are finding well worth the effort.