Aug 24, 2022 - News

Colorado lawmakers target turf amid unprecedented drought

Illustration of a patch of grass on a parched piece of land with a swing above

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Colorado leaders are launching a turf war.

  • As climate change continues to constrict water resources in unprecedented ways, local leaders on both sides of the aisle have started to agree that lush lawns are unsustainable and are taking steps to phase them out.

Why it matters: Denver residents alone use about 140 gallons of water per capita each day, 50% of which is guzzled up by lawns, Denver Water estimates.

Driving the news: Aurora's conservative-majority city council approved a measure this week that sets limits on lawns, including a ban on "cool-weather" turf grasses for golf courses and new home developments.

  • Meanwhile, in left-leaning Denver, city officials are drafting a proposal to introduce later this year that would establish a voluntary water irrigation cap and limit developers' use of turf to areas that serve specific community benefits, Denver Water spokesperson Travis Thompson tells Axios.
  • Earlier this year, Colorado lawmakers passed a GOP-sponsored bill that allocated $2 million to establish a statewide turf replacement program for residential, commercial, institutional and industrial properties. That program, designed by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, is expected to launch after July 1, 2023.

Context: Since 2018, the Mile High City has offered developers a rebate for installing the highest-efficiency fixtures, landscape designs and irrigation technology.

  • Several other Front Range metros — including Fort Collins, Greeley and Thornton — have launched cash-for-grass programs in recent years to incentivize residents to remove their lawns and replace them with more drought-tolerant plants.

The big picture: A growing number of cities nationwide are taking similar steps to get people to tear out their turf and save water.

  • The moves come as the effects of climate change, often cast as a global issue, are seen more locally, increasingly impacting each of us in our own backyards, Axios' Andrew Freedman and Michael Graff write.

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