Aurora water issues prompt proposed limit to grass lawns, golf courses

Fifty percent of Aurora’s water use is from lawn irrigation, but a new proposal seeks to eliminate cool-weather turf such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescue or ryegrass, in new golf courses and any front and side lawns for new residential developments.

It would also limit the amount of grass that can be in backyards and prohibit it from being used in common areas unless it’s in an active recreational area such as a sports field. Similarly, the turf can only be placed in commercial and multi-family developments as well as schools if they are active recreation areas, not for aesthetic purposes.

If the City Council passes the ordinance, it would take effect next year for new developments and redevelopments.

“We’ve had prolonged drought, compounded by a warming planet, that is forcing us to face a new reality of scarce water resources,” said Mayor Mike Coffman, who is working with city staff on the proposed ordinance. “I just think the longer we wait to address the problem, the bigger it’s going to get and the more dramatic the solution will have to be.”

With increasingly expensive water rights and demand for growth, Coffman said the city, and even the state, can’t continue using water like they’re used to, and the water rate costs would go up for everyone. The proposal seeks to get rid of “nonfunctional” grasses that use more than 15 inches of supplemental water and water features that only serve an aesthetic purpose.

The current proposal calls for banning ornamental water features such as koi ponds, waterfalls or fountains as well as cool-weather turf on medians or curbside landscaping. In single-family home backyards, turf would be restricted to 45% (as is already required) or 500 sq. M. ft, whichever is smaller. There is an exception for the front lawns of “alley-load homes” that can’t install turf in the back of a home, so they could have turf in the front lawn, with restrictions.

Aurora would be the first city in Colorado to place limits on grass use to this level, modeling parts of it after what’s happening in Las Vegas, according to Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. In Las Vegas, nonfunctional grass is banned entirely, so grasses are being torn out across the city. Aurora’s current plan would only be applicable to new development.

Other cities in the state, including Castle Rock, are monitoring how Aurora’s process goes, Baker said.

A group plays soccer on the ...

Anya Semenoff, The Denver Post

A group plays soccer on the grass at the Aurora Municipal Center in Aurora on Oct. 5, 2016

“We’re emulating what’s happened further out west, especially in the data, but we’re doing it because we can see the crisis coming,” he said. “And we don’t want to get into that crisis. So let’s be proactive in trying to mitigate it now before we face what Las Vegas and Los Angeles are facing today. ”

The last time the city was able to fill all 12 of its reservoirs was in 2015, according to Baker, and city staff has seen a downward trend, even though the city’s water use and demands did not increase significantly during that time.

In a city of Aurora resident survey that was open from Oct. 22 to Jan. 30, 43% of respondents said they definitely agreed that nonfunctional turf in golf courses should be banned while 19% said they somewhat agreed, with 14% definitely disagreeing, 11% somewhat disagreeing and 13% remaining neutral. For banning it in front yards of new developments, the number of people definitely agreeing jumped to 54%, with 20% somewhat agreeing, 9% definitely disagreeing, 10% somewhat disagreeing and 7% remaining neutral.

Housing construction site of Painted Prairie ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Housing construction site of Painted Prairie in Aurora, Colorado on Tuesday. September 1, 2020. The development boom around Denver is driving cities to seek new water supplies more than 150 miles away on the other side of the Continental Divide in the mountains.

Even more people said the nonfunctional grass should be banned in common areas and in medians and curbside landscapes.

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