Colorado Springs’ overhaul of development rules calls for scaling back high-water turf grass — The #ColoradoSprings Independent

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

Changes in landscaping regulations for new Colorado Springs developments are on the horizon, the latest effort to curtail the use of water-thirsty lawns as drought continues to grip the West and pressure the Colorado River, the source of up to 70 percent of the city’s water supply.

The rules would reduce the amount of turf a residential lot would be allowed to have to minimize use of the city’s water supply on landscaping.

Part of Retool COS, a revamp of all city regulations governing development, the turf restrictions could be adopted as early as next May.

But those rules won’t affect existing sprawling lawns and high water-using plants. Officials hope the use of tiered water rates and education will encourage property owners to reduce demand, which already has happened.

As the consequences of severe drought become more apparent, Colorado Springs residents should recognize the condition of the state’s rivers has a direct impact on them, says Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson Natalie Eckhart…

West Drought Monitor map October 26, 2021.

Drought in the West has spanned 20 years, and on Oct. 18, the Bureau of Reclamation released its Two-year Probabilistic Projections that updated modeling for inflows at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River, showing the reservoirs are at risk of reaching critically low levels…

The Bureau of Reclamation study removed the wet period of the 1980s from the calculations and “further underscores the possible dire drought conditions that the [Colorado] Basin may experience in the next two years and the need for immediate action to bolster resiliences going forward,” the Water for Colorado Coalition said in a release. The coalition is made up of nine organizations — including The Nature Conservancy, Conservation Colorado, Trout Unlimited and Western Resource Advocates — that work to ensure the state’s rivers support those who depend on them.

The study and projections illustrate “the grim state of hydrology in the Basin and offers an impetus for urgent collaborative action,” the coalition said.

“The Colorado River is in trouble, and under the status quo there is uncertainty as to how the River system will continue to support thriving economies, communities, and river systems within the state, let alone the 40 million people, trillion dollar economic market, diverse cultures, and myriad fish and wildlife habitats that rely on it.”

The coalition urged water users to incorporate all the tools available to “increase preparedness and resilience to climate change,” including voluntary conservation efforts, forest management and restorative agricultural practices to boost soil health and reduce loss of water…

For Colorado Springs Utilities, the need to monitor and conserve water is a pragmatic one, not being located on a river system but rather relying heavily on transmountain supplies, most notably from the Colorado River.

About 50 percent of the city’s water supply comes from the Colorado River Basin. That portion rises to 70 percent with reuse, a method that allows for additional use of previously used water. For example, once water is used for domestic purposes, it’s treated and reused in the city’s non-potable system.

“We take the risks very seriously and employ a number of mitigation strategies,” Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair Wayne Williams says via email.

Among those:

• Diversifying Colorado River sources by acquiring and developing rights from various other sources, including share agreements with lower Arkansas River Valley agricultural users.

• Expanding the current infrastructure to allow for more storage. Utilities has spent millions of dollars in recent years repairing and upgrading dams at its reservoirs for maximum storage potential. It secured the equivalent of a third of the city’s supply by inking a storage contract at Pueblo Reservoir and building the Southern Delivery System pipeline to Colorado Springs, which became operational in 2016. It’s also in the planning and research stage of building a new reservoir in the White River National Forest in Eagle County to perfect water rights owned by the city and Aurora since the 1950s.

• Reducing per capita water consumption through efficiency and conservation measures. Data show the average use per person in Colorado Springs dropped from 139 gallons per day in 2000 to 82 gallons per day this year, Springs Utilities spokesperson Jennifer Kemp says. Moreover, of that 139 gallons some 20 years ago, 60 percent went for outdoor use, while outdoor use today comprises only 41 percent of total usage per person.

• Exploring more uses for the city’s non-potable water supply.

• Researching the feasibility of incorporating recycled water into the domestic supply.

Now, the city’s Retool COS land use code proposes to incorporate “recognized water conservation principles” into development requirements to conserve water.

The proposal calls for reducing consumption through use of xeriscape concepts and “standards for the selection, installation, and maintenance of organic soil amendments and plant materials, and the conservation of indigenous plant[s].”

Those steps will, in turn, reduce mowing and fertilization requirements of limited turf areas, preserve species habitat, and curtail air, water and noise pollution, Retool COS says.

Specifically, the proposed code change would apply to all single-family and two-, three- and four-family residential projects by limiting turfgrass to no more than 25 percent of the portion of the lot not covered by a primary or accessory structure or a driveway, patio, deck or walkway.

Also, no contiguous area of less than 100 square feet could be planted with high-water-use turfgrass or other landscaping with spray irrigation. This provision’s intent is to minimize pockets of high water turf outside of the “tree lawn” — that space between a detached sidewalk and street curb, Planning Supervisor Morgan Hester says in an email…

Past efforts have included education about plants and their individual watering needs, and tiered rate structures that increase the per-unit cost of water based on levels of usage. Simply put, the more water you use, the higher the price, or the less water you use, the lower your bill will be.

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