FILE - This undated file photo shows a cordless electric lawnmower being used in New Paltz, N.Y. The trend in so many home projects these days _ from growing vegetables to hanging out the laundry _ is toward doing it yourself, going green, simplifying. But anyone who wants to take that approach to lawn care had better be ready for research and hard work. (AP Photo/Lee Reich, FILE)

The amazement of my first jet ride as a kid still lingers, including the thrilling thrust and the shocking realization that I live in a desert.

Back in the 1960s, obsessed with catching a ride, I cajoled my grandmother to drop me off in Colorado Springs at the end of one summer after a season of picking onions and tomatoes in Manzanola. It’s part of the Arkansas Valley, where river water spread over thousands of acres of dry land produces world-famous melons, peppers and more.

As an expensive lark, I treated myself to a Frontier Airlines 727 flight from Colorado Springs to Stapleton Airport in Denver.

The takeoff speed made me giddy.

It’s a short flight, but the Boeing workhorse gained respectable altitude on its way to Concourse C in Denver.

From about 20,000 feet in the air, I realized for the first time that the Front Range is actually brown. There are no trees. No dense scrub. Just a lot of dirt and some roads as Colorado’s high plains exist in their natural state.

But as you fly into Denver, beginning in Aurora, the emerald yards are a stunning contrast.

That was about 50 years ago. The population, and sprawl, of the Aurora-Denver metroplex has pretty much tripled.

By removing water naturally destined for Colorado’s major rivers, and, ultimately, the ocean, more than 3 million people are pumping billions of gallons of water on the Front Range’s viridescent quilt, which now sprawls from Castle Rock to Lyons and pretty much east to Watkins.

Denver Water, which supplies most of the metro region, other than Aurora, pumps about 369 million gallons of water a day. In the summer, and as much as about half of that gets poured onto laws to keep them alive and as green as possible. 

Aurora Water, one of the most innovative water providers in the country, provides about 55,000 acre feet of water to the city’s almost 400,000 residents and 5,500 businesses. Like Denver, Aurora residents pour about half their water onto their lawns during summer.

And you know what you do with all that water you pour on in the dirt around your house or apartment building? You walk right past it.

Well, not on weekends. Then you walk over the top of it with a lawn-mower.

The notion of home lawns is one of those weird European immigrant things. Going back to the 1600s —  before I was in school and required to care for our own family farm of Kentucky bluegrass — lawns of herbs and natural grasses created clearing around homes as a form of security.

The notion came steadily with immigrants from Europe as they took over this continent, with fine-bladed grass lawns crowding out more sensible ground covers.

But as those of us from here can see, there are no woods to clear and fear, pretty much between Kansas City and western California.

There are no trees and no lush vegetation because there is no rain to keep it alive.

What grows here naturally is what most people call weeds. We spend a great deal of time and money to kill local vegetation from their lawns, which can’t survive here without a lot of extra water.

While this was little more than a novelty to me as a kid in the 1960s, the oddity of planting a yard full of grass to flood and mow so you can look at it once in a while, has become a serious problem.

Grassiness is a quagmire because so many people live here now, the extravagant amount of water thirsty fescue requires threatens things like drinking and flushing the toilet, especially in places downstream of the metro area. In relatively newly inhabited parts of the Front Range, reliable water is already gone or on the verge of being critically unreliable, even outside of a drought.

It’s long past time to end the emerald madness here in the desert.

Aurora has a good start. Not only has Aurora Water found ways to reclaim water sent downstream, the city has long been in the forefront of cajoling and sometimes forcing people to treat water like the rare commodity it is along the Front Range.

The city has long watered some parks with treated sewage water.

Aurora was in the front of the parade to create water-saving homes, even while the hose ran outside in the front yard.

The idea of lawn-watering restrictions have been around longer than most people who live here.

For decades, the city has nudged and prevailed on residents to try a front yard full of thyme, planters, almost anything other than thirsty grasses that we perpetuate here only because we’ve always done it that way.

The latest round of news — that, despite a snowy winter, drought is likely and, with it, further water restrictions for your lawn: two days a week, not three — has caused a stir among some.

The Aurora Water predictions presented to city lawmakers in February sent off a surprising round of huffing and puffing from the region’s “freedom” types, questioning the inexact and critical science of community hydrology.

The “get off my god-given-lawn rights” types sound like Colorado’s congressmembers Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert, sneering at climate change warnings when it rains, or insisting that “real Colorado farmers” need and use assault rifles to keep raccoons in check.

Fortunately, the majority of city lawmakers agreed recently with Mayor Mike Coffman to essentially end thirsty front lawns and side yards for all new homes built. Why it took this long for Aurora to simply do the obvious is a testament to the same human nature that has us watching a groundhog predict the length of winter each year.

The era of thirsty front-yard carpeting is lawn gone. Move along. Aurora even provides incentives to dig it up and give it up. As if you need any.

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  1. Agree. Long past time to stop the lawns, grass all around shopping centers, golf courses, highway mediums. We must xeriscape with growing drought and stop the chemicals killing insects/micro-organisms/birds. Leave leaves alone too, no more gas-guzzling leaf blowers. Landscapers need to get informed and change approach which harms every aspect of our environment and expensive for us all. How stupid is our obsession with lawns — VERY STUPID.

    1. Hey Debra, congratulations on making a comment and not bashing our Mayor Mike not even once. Even though he has a yard and lives on a golf course.

      But you did get in your bit of constant hatred by inferring those that like green yards are VERY STUPID. Maybe they are just misinformed to your and David’s way of thinking.

  2. Ok great this is a complaining personal view article. I wish you could show two sides of the coin here. I do agree with excess water consumption with green lawns. I fully support conserving water and people who choose to not have a lawns. Please show legit data of how much it will cost to install either a full rock front yard from a landscaper and or a a full astro turf front yard (only). Not to mention what the homes are selling for (Aurora market). I would also like to see data which HOA’s require lawns in some neighborhoods. Do you see what I’m getting at? Not a simple task as it may seem to get everyone on board.

    What I suggest is some sort of incentive to convert pre existing lawns to all rock or turf landscapes from our state law makers. When that happens, I think your argument will have more weight. Until then, the water “waste” will continue. It’s not like this water is free. People are still paying to use this water for their lawns.

    I cant wait for your next article and personal take on gas stoves in homes.

  3. Cutting back on municipal use through xeriscaping is fine and should be done in a naturally arid region, but it’s also a drop in the bucket compared to what agriculture uses, and the prior appropriation system completely distorts the region’s actual water availability.

    Getting rid of prior appropriation in favor of a riparian system will do more to help preserve watersheds than simply mandating residential xeriscaping ever will.

    1. The downvoters should probably read real, actual books on water use in the American West.

      1. Yes. What books, FWO, do you recommend?
        Actually, book, because we do not have time for more.

        1. Start with John Wesley Powell’s “Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States,” “Cadillac Desert” by Marc Reisner, “Beyond the 100th Meridian” and “Crossing the Next Meridian” by Charles Wilkinson, “A Ditch in Time” by Patricia Nelson Limerick, “A Land Made From Water by Robert R. Crifasi, and “Water and the West” by Norris Hundley, Jr.

          If you only have time for one, “Cadillac Desert” is the seminal work.

          1. Downvoters don’t even know what “riparian” and “prior appropriation” means without looking it up on Wikipedia.

  4. I live in SW Missouri and every summer my grass dies but by winter it’s green again and it comes back every spring. Watering grass in a waste of water.

    1. The average rainfall in Springfield, Missouri (SW region of the state) is 47″+ per year. Here it is 15″. Please take your irrelevant opinion somewhere else.

  5. Aurora’s de-watering flash in the plan idea is not the fix, its another political bandage to a bigger problem the city is unwilling to admit. So some of us like to live on the flats east of the Rocky’s and we also happen to like out lawns and our gardens and our flowers. Anyone watching what the city is doing, that’s causing main problem – our hair is on fire knows what going on. Dave is right as he says the city has exploded. The cities building and planning department has along with the open for business sign, we will sell you all the water you want for any development you bring us. We pay a non profit firm $500K sell Aurora is open for business, come on down. So people that have been here with well established lawns and gardens are asked to sacrifice their water usage for the new water permits. My house and water usage had no stipulations of any rationing when it was built. Now, its tear out your lawn, your trees, any outside plant. Already, the city has quietly reduced the water pressure buy 15 to 20 lbs psi in some neighborhoods, which has affected the sprinkler spray coverage. Of course they don’t bother to tell you you have less pressure. Why, its their way of taking away what water they feel you don’t need. The formula for pro-rating summer water usage based off a three month winter average, are you kidding. Talk about a unfair, and more city of Aurora, lain brain thinking. What your winter usage is to the summer time average. Why not go back in the records dept on addresses and see the summertime averages per address? You want to be accurate and fair. Dave, you will get you second viewing of a city in the inhospitable desert, waist land called Aurora. So go ahead Aurora, sell some more unrestricted permits for more usage.

  6. Here’s more “food for thought”:

    Don’t you think that “community hydrology” has a “ring” to it? Don’t you really love it when David uses college size words to show his gigantic vocabulary?

    Don’t buy into the fact that Denver or Aurora was built on a desert. Certainly with at least two rivers running through it. I believe the land would be called “plains”.

    Moab, UT could be called a high plains desert, not Aurora.

    Any type of land mass might have droughts. It’s all about the science of rain, snow, sleet and hail and how much of each.

    Marshall Brown, the King of the Aurora Water Department cares very little about the citizens of Aurora, as compared to his Water Empire and is not “your friend”.

    Couldn’t it be possible that King Brown’s plan for we citizens this coming summer is to save water, his main source of revenue, by watering 1/3 less and losing revenue but he can still maintain the same revenue by over charging dramatically those that do not obey his commands?

    This way King Brown’s Kingdom stays the same size as last year and has more water to sell. Great business plan, don’t you see?

    Now, he has convinced the Mayor and most of the Council on his plan. I watched his smooth talking when he did this. Smooth, very smooth.

    Now he gets free advertising from the Sentinel blog.

    I can hardly wait for the citizens of Aurora, to understand, later this summer, what I’m writing about. There’s lots of snow up in them hills!

    When they say, “Think Green”, I doubt this editorial is what “they” mean. It all gets so confusing, doesn’t it?

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