In a concerted effort to combat water scarcity and bolster water conservation, Colorado cities are implementing new measures, from construction bans on thirsty turf to replacing grass in public medians with drought-tolerant landscapes. Leading this eco-conscious charge is Broomfield, which recently passed stringent restrictions on turf grass in new developments, setting the stage for other municipalities to follow suit.
The move comes as part of a broader trend that Lindsay Rogers, a water specialist with Western Resource Advocates, describes as an “unprecedented” momentum toward water-wise landscape transformations. The nonprofit, in collaboration with WaterNow Alliance, has been advising cities like Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Grand Junction, guiding them through the process of enacting landscaping ordinances that de-emphasize traditional turf.
Broomfield’s City Council unanimously passed what Rogers deems one of the state’s most robust turf restrictions, allowing turfgrass on only 30% of the front and side yards of new detached homes and commercial construction. The city also mandates rain shutoff sensors for new irrigation systems and prohibits turf in parking lot landscapes, with the new ordinance set to take effect on January 1, 2024.
Aurora and Castle Rock have joined Broomfield in implementing cutbacks on turf allowances for new construction, responding to the growing importance of water conservation amid recurring drought conditions in Colorado. While municipal water usage constitutes less than 10% of statewide water consumption, landscape watering accounts for over half of this usage, prompting cities to rethink traditional landscaping practices.
Broomfield, witnessing 60% to 70% of its water usage dedicated to outdoor activities in recent years, is not only enforcing restrictions on new developments but also taking steps to replace water-intensive turf in public median spaces. The city aims to transform these areas into landscapes that demand significantly less water, aligning with the broader water-wise initiative.
Other Colorado cities, including Lafayette and Denver, are actively engaged in turf replacement initiatives. Lafayette has launched a public turf replacement series, featuring demonstration projects that replace grass with low-water plantings. The city also incentivizes homeowners by offering $1 per square foot in landscaping subsidies for grass removal. Denver Parks and Recreation is following suit by replacing turfgrass with low-water landscaping in medians and other controlled spaces.
Water resource experts are capitalizing on the momentum, with the state offering $1.5 million in local turf removal grants. The program, which saw nearly 40 applications in its inaugural year, is anticipated to grow, as water advocates aim for a larger state-funded buyback in 2024. The high level of interest indicates a broader shift toward prioritizing water conservation, with residents and municipalities actively participating in initiatives that balance aesthetics with sustainability.
As Colorado navigates the challenges of water scarcity, these forward-thinking measures and collaborative efforts are shaping a more water-wise landscape that prioritizes environmental resilience and community participation. The emphasis on alternative landscaping practices and the phasing out of water-intensive turf heralds a new era of responsible water management, positioning Colorado as a leader in sustainable practices for future generations.