Aurora’s water issues prompt proposed limit to lawns and golf courses

Fifty percent of Aurora’s water use comes from lawn irrigation, but a new proposal aims to eliminate cool-weather turf such as Kentucky bluegrass, fescue or ryegrass, in new golf courses and all front and side lawns for new residential developments.

It would also limit the amount of grass that can be in backyards and prohibit its use in common areas unless it is in an active recreation area like a sports field. Similarly, turf may only be placed in commercial and multi-family developments as well as schools if they are for active recreation areas, not for aesthetic purposes.

If the city council passes the ordinance, it will come into effect next year for new developments and redevelopments.

“We’ve had a prolonged drought, made worse by global warming, which is forcing us to deal with a new reality of scarce water resources,” said Mayor Mike Coffman, who is working with city staff on the proposed order. “I just think the longer we wait to resolve the problem, the worse it’s going to get and the more dramatic the solution will have to be.”

With increasingly expensive water rights and growing demand, Coffman said the city, and even the state, cannot continue to use water as they are accustomed to, and the water prices would increase for everyone. The proposal aims to get rid of “non-functional” grasses that use more than 15 inches of extra water and aquatic features that only serve aesthetic purposes.

The current proposal calls for banning ornamental water features such as koi ponds, waterfalls or fountains as well as cool weather grass on medians or curbside landscaping. In backyards of single-family homes, sod would be limited to 45% (as already required) or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller. There is an exception for front lawns of “drive-through homes” which cannot install sod on the back of a house, so they could have sod in the front lawn, with restrictions.

Aurora would be the first city in Colorado to impose limits on grass use at this level, modeling some parts after what is happening in Las Vegas, according to Aurora Water spokesman Greg Baker. In Las Vegas, non-functional grass is banned entirely, so weeds are pulled up across the city. Aurora’s current plan would only apply to new developments.

Other cities in the state, including Castle Rock, are monitoring how the Aurora process unfolds, Baker said.

Anya Semenoff, The Denver Post

A group plays soccer on the grass at the Aurora Civic Center in Aurora on October 5, 2016.

“We are mimicking what has happened further west, especially in the data, but we are doing it because we can see the crisis coming,” he said. “And we don’t want to get into this crisis. So let’s be proactive in trying to mitigate it now before we face what Las Vegas and Los Angeles are facing today.

The last time the city was able to fill its 12 reservoirs was in 2015, according to Baker, and city staff have seen a downward trend, even as the city’s water use and demand did not increase significantly during this period.

In a Aurora City Resident Survey open from October 22 to January 30, 43% of respondents said they strongly agreed with banning non-functional turf on golf courses, while 19% said they somewhat agreed agree, with 14% totally disagreeing, 11% somewhat disagreeing and 13% remaining neutral. To ban it in the front yards of new developments, the number of people who strongly agreed jumped to 54%, with 20% somewhat agree, 9% strongly disagree, 10% somewhat disagree and 7% remaining neutral.

Painted Prairie Housing Construction Site...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

On Tuesday, the Painted Prairie housing construction site in Aurora, Colorado. September 1, 2020. The development boom around Denver is pushing cities to seek new water supplies more than 150 miles across the Continental Divide in the mountains.

Even more people said that non-functional grass should be banned in common areas and in medians and curbside landscapes.

While the ordinance is only effective for new developments or redevelopments, Baker said the city is looking at ways to provide additional incentives for water conservation efforts for existing developments. There are already some restrictions on existing homes, and the city has a program that offers money for sod removal and the placement of more “water efficient” options.

Coffman said he got ‘excited’ about the proposal when he heard of the new Kings Point Development and Golf Course under construction in southeast Aurora. It was agreed decades ago, so it wouldn’t be subject to the ordinance, but future golf courses would be.

“When I heard they could use up to a million gallons of water in the summer a day, I thought, ‘wow, we just can’t do this and keep it going'” , did he declare. That’s when he reached out to city staff to find out what other areas the city could conserve water use.

The city council is expected to discuss the proposal during a study session on July 18.

Michael C. Ford