THE LAWN GOODBYE: Aurora council considers doing away with turf in front of homes and on golf courses to save water

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The fairways at Meadow Hills Golf Course. (Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA | Thirsty lawns may soon disappear from Aurora suburbs, at least in new developments, under a sweeping water conservation proposal by Mayor Mike Coffman that Aurora lawmakers signaled support for Monday.

The mayor said he considered the cuts in light of the realities of climate change, persistent drought and dueling demands on water resources, particularly along the Colorado River.

“I know this seems like a fairly dramatic change, and it is, but the circumstances that we’re in are dramatic,” Coffman said Monday. “This really is a prudent path forward, and the fact is that all of the easy water rights are gone. They’re gone.”

Besides banning the installation of turf for purely aesthetic purposes, the proposal would prohibit grass lawn from being installed on road medians as well as on golf courses, leaving the future of course construction uncertain.

Backyard lawns would also be limited to the lesser of 45% of the yard or 500 square feet, and front yard lawns would be limited to alley-loading properties with backyards too small for turf, covering the lesser of 45% of the front yard or 750 square feet.

Aurora has for years limited new-home lawns. Currently, residential front yards can include no more than 1,000 square feet of turf.

The proposal would also bar “the use of water in all public and private exterior ornamental water features and ponds.”

The proposal would not restrict turf on athletic fields or in parks and would not require property owners to tear up existing lawns, though Marshall Brown, general manager of Aurora Water, said the city is incentivizing property owners to transition to landscaping that requires less water.

Brown put the proposal in the context of an order by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that Colorado River Basin states figure out how to stop using 2-million to 4-million acre-feet of water within a year or else the agency will use its emergency powers to make cuts.

About a quarter of Aurora’s water rights come from the Colorado River, Brown said, with the remainder sourced from the Arkansas and South Platte rivers.

“It’s not a crisis that’s limited to Aurora. It’s an arid West crisis,” Brown said. “Aurora cannot continue to grow in the future as we have grown in the past.”

He told Councilmember Juan Marcano that the largest single users of city water included the Parks, Recreation & Open Space Department, school districts and beverage company Niagara Bottling. The city already uses non-potable reclaimed water to irrigate golf courses, parks and landscaping at city buildings.

Greg Baker, public relations manager for Aurora Water, later said in an email that water used in irrigation is nonetheless unavailable for reuse afterward, and so the city is trying to reduce the amount of water used for that purpose, noting that up to half of the city’s water is used for irrigation now.

Marcano expressed discomfort with the idea of a for-profit corporation drawing heavily on city water, and Brown said Niagara had mentioned expanding in the past.

Marcano and Councilmember Alison Coombs both said they thought the city should go beyond offering rebates for water-wise landscaping and consider restricting water use in existing developments. The two also objected to an amendment suggested by Councilmember Steve Sundberg to increase the amount of turf allowed around homes.

“I think this is already not aggressive enough for the problems that we really face,” said Coombs. “So not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell no’ to making any changes that would increase the water use at all.”

Councilmember Dustin Zvonek expressed concerns over the impacts that the proposal could have on home prices, saying alternative landscaping costs developers more.

“The question is, how do we make sure that we’re balancing meeting these reduction in (water) consumption goals, but at the same time allow for flexibility and growth in our city,” he said. “We’re not sure what this would do to our new home market, given that we would be leading, which I think is a good thing, as a city.”

Brown said Aurora’s proposal was novel in Colorado and that other cities had requested copies of the Aurora ordinance. Zvonek asked Brown if the cost of landscaping could be offset through a reduction in tap fees, and Brown said the current draft of the ordinance would include a $3,000 cut to fees.

The proposal would apply to site plans approved on or after Jan. 1, 2023. Council members did not object to the item moving forward out of study session to a formal vote.

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DENNIS DUFFY
DENNIS DUFFY
2 months ago

This is an excellent idea but it’s implementation will be terrible I can already see the incredibly ugly weed strewn rental homes with uncollected trash sitting in driveway while the landlord ignores it, the renters piss on it, the neighbors complain about it and our clueless city government shakes it furry head and goes……

Who woulda thought?

Of you want this done and it needs to be done then it needs to be done correctly.

Start with huge ugly fines
Insist on rental tax dedicated to remov ing igliness..
OFFER FREE DROUGHT ReSISTANT P L ANTINGS.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE n I gravel or sunbaked Idesert earthen clum p s I f ugliness I ntersoersed with dying weeds..don’t make things ug l y
Make them be a beautifull

Dean
2 months ago
Reply to  DENNIS DUFFY

Dennis, you read my mind. What is so inexcusable is already the extreme damage the city has allowed to take place across the city. Because the city has been so lax on their maintaining the minimum standards for the lawns access the city they have turned to dust at many houses. My neighbors are great at not watering anything, so the 50 year old trees are also dying as they get no water either. Guess what happens then? It’s really great as the branches are beginning to fall across property lines. So responsible owners now to protect against the falling branches have to take a new position to clear out branches from their neighbors causing the dead trees. Wait till some big dead branch comes down on his neighbor’s car 20 foot away. What does the city do about this problem? Guess? 
The city code enforcement you think they will be there?   

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
2 months ago
Reply to  DENNIS DUFFY

It will take more-vigorous code enforcement on the part of the City to make sure that homeowners do not simply allow lawns to go to weeds and dirt. Perhaps something addressing this particular facet of the idea should be included in the ordinance.

Dean
2 months ago

Sadly, the overwhelming fact is we now live in a city that has over sold its ability to produce the product it is mandated to provide to the citizens. So who gets the water? It’s clear the city and the staff the so-called experts haven’t a clue themselves of exactly what to do. Our Socialist Council Juan Marcano, and Combs have the answer, immediately single out the for- profit business Niagara-Bottling , use government power to shut off their water spicket. What’s funny, the water company family owned and operated has been around since 1963. Despite the company’s long-term commitments that is normal for staying successful and no guarantee to now having children that have nothing invested and never will risk it. But rather to tell this business, you should have less rights to the water, than others, as they need it more. Our reason, because we don’t like “for profit” evil business. This is the definition of our good government in action….

Jeff Ryan
Jeff Ryan
2 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Bottled water is one of the stupidest, least necessary products our spoiled country has fallen for. (Not that we’re alone, but then, we do set trends, too.) It has led to the sale of scarce water to huge corporations (e.g., Nestle) and the environmentally devastating proliferation of wasted plastic bottles that are choking the planet.

I have nothing personal against Niagara. I have no desire to see people lose their jobs. But we can’t “grandfather in” dangerous businesses and expect the “good” companies to somehow defy reality and sell products like this.

Look, it takes an insane amount of wilful blindness to deny what’s happening. And responding by saying “But the economy!” while temperatures soar and Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to levels rendering them useless to the people who depend on them, wildfires get even wilder, farmers lose their family businesses because the water to sustain them is gone, and we populate landfills with non-biodegradable plastic only hastens the inevitable collapse.

And “socialism” doesn’t have a damned thing to do with it.

Sandy
Sandy
2 months ago

Wait, am I understanding this right? I feel like there is not enough attention on the point about the water bottle company that is reselling a HUGE portion of AURORA’s water to outsiders at a company profit. We’re all going to be out of water in less than a decade because this company wants to make money off our public resources???? Shut them down!!

Dean
2 months ago
Reply to  Sandy

With that thinking, why stop there? Then the Coors Beer Company that ships the mountain water repurposed as beer should also be included as a “for-profit” company reselling water. Put them next on the hit list. No big deal, it will only shut down Goldens biggest employer.
I guess Niagaras employees, facing some unemployment will go for that “shut them down!” solution.

Don
Don
2 months ago
Reply to  Sandy

So do we shut down breweries too? What other businesses are allowed to remain? Almost 20 gallons of water to produce a pint of beer and we have a brewery on every corner. That seems more wasteful than a company repackaging water.

Lynn Prasse Bittel
Lynn Prasse Bittel
1 month ago
Reply to  Sandy

Bottled water is a big waste and the companies ship most of out our area, at some point in the future they will banned everwhere.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
2 months ago

Whoever introduced Kentucky bluegrass lawns to the Metro should have been shot, but like most utilities at the time, water was cheap and plentiful. It was hard to plan for the future, while today we are better able to do so. For decades, homeowners in the Metro have prided themselves on their lush lawns and one could drive down any street and see a vast expanse of beautiful grass. But times and the economy have changed. In the not-too-distant future, water will be more costly than oil. So it’s best to get ready and plan for it sooner than later, though it already may be “later.” I think the younger generations and those going forward will be more amenable to accepting this change that one’s home value is not determined by how much or how green one’s lawn is. And how much should we be willing to spend so a relatively-few number of people can recreate on a golf course?

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
2 months ago

I’m surprised that the Mayor and our conservative City Council believes that this water savings program is more important than the complete intrusion of Aurora’s citizens rights to make personal decisions on their property and developers business rights to plan development projects as they see fit within the current laws.

As this program goes forward from Study Session, I hope the Council decides to take Aurora citizens and business rights out of the equation. Make decisions for only the City owned property if that is your desire.

Just a guy that doesn't want to live in Mad Max
Just a guy that doesn't want to live in Mad Max
2 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

That would be great if the impact of the bad decisions the individual Aurora citizens and businesses were only going to fall on those water-guzzling, grass-loving citizens and businesses. But it won’t. When we run out of water because jerk citizens from the past used it all on their ugly lawns, it won’t just be the Lawn Dads and the golfers that are fighting Water Wars and taking sand showers. Personal responsibility only works when there are personal consequences.

Also, the city and publicly owned property IS the water. It’s called Aurora Water, not Lawn Dad Water. They ARE making decisions for city owned property.

Your big grassy yards and golf courses are not more valuable than the environment that we ALL have to live in. Your big grassy yards and golf courses won’t even be that pleasant when the whole city has NO WATER in less than 10 years.

Lawny McWaterson
Lawny McWaterson
2 months ago

Is this the same Aurora where just two weeks ago an entire block got ticketed for brown spots on their lawn, because it’s been hot af and it’s impossible to maintain a perfect lawn with multiple 95+ degree days in a row?

Because, this also seems to be the same Aurora that only allows watering three of days a week during the night.

No matter what you do, you get a fine – more revenue for the city! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
2 months ago

And lets not forgot the bone-breaking loophole in the city’s chase drain spec that allows builders to channel runoff, including snowmelt, to the surface of the sidewalk where it freezes at sundown five months a year.

I switched to bottled water immediately after Marshall Brown said this ice is naturally occurring. He has lost my trust. Ditto Cindy Collip, the Director of Public Works. Both need to go.

Bob
Bob
2 months ago

The city has already started their water rationing program. Their slick way of doing it is slowly reduce the water pressure they control at their pump stations. What we were given as working pressure ten years ago was about 70-75 PSI. Now we are lucky to get 50-45 PSI through out the day. The noticeable bad yards you see all over now days are somewhat a result of poor sprinkler pressures not giving the design spray coverage. You don’t hear a peep about this from the water department.But your water bill every month still shows you using some water, just not at the same pressures anymore. Denver, has the average of about 85_90 PSI, Edgewater has a average of about 85 PSI.

Last edited 2 months ago by Bob
Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
2 months ago

This change must happen – & not just in Aurora. Aurora Water has been helping developments for a few years remove grass & xeriscape areas with advice, plants/clover help & some funding. It’s been offering this help & funding to homeowners too. If you haven’t availed yourself yet, get to it. Also learn how bad lawns are for homeowners, pollinators & the environment. It will help each of us make a better plan when we understand grass – especially non-native grass – is not sustainable. Freakonomics podcast on this topic is great.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago

It does take roughly 20 gallons of water to make a pint of beer, as much as 132 gallons of water to make a 2-liter bottle of soda, and about 500 gallons, including water used to grow, dye and process the cotton, to make a pair of Levi’s stonewashed jeans. God knows the # of gals to wash a car or mega pickup truck.