Colorado Landscaping Summit Recap

| Advocacy, Colorado Native Plants, Turf Conversion

By Danna Liebert

Thanks to Jenifer S. Heath and Barney White for contributing to this piece.

On November 9, The Colorado Water Conservation Board hosted an all-day “Colorado Landscaping Summit” to discuss the implementation of Colorado’s Turf Replacement Bill, HB22-1151, and outdoor water conservation strategies being used in different cities. While native plants were mentioned, there was little talk about the importance of promoting them in the rollout of HB22-1151. One notable exception was Scott Winter, a panelist from Colorado Springs Water Authority who said, “it’s as important what we are putting in as what we are taking out.” He advocated for using native grasses as an alternative to turfgrass, and as living mulch; better integrating stormwater management into public landscaping; rethinking what trees we plant; landscaping to reflect our front range ecology; and (as if this list wasn’t enough music to the ears of any WOFR member), he also said that artificial turf and replacing turf with rock on top of landscape fabric were pet peeves of his!

Here are some takeaways from the day. For more info, you can watch a recording of the summit

  • Through Colorado’s Turf Replacement Bill, HB22-1151, a total of $1.5 million will be distributed over two cycles, with annual allocations of $550K to help fund existing turf replacement programs + $200k to support the development of new turf replacement programs (learn more here).
  • Incentives and restrictions – Lindsay Rogers from Western Resources (WR) said WR was aware of 22 cities/water providers that offer turf replacement incentives (giving $1-2 per square foot), and 10 water providers with turf limits for new development, as of last summer. Implementing landscape codes that limit the installation of turf in new development and medians is the most cost-effective way for cities to reduce water use.
  • It was acknowledged that although funding turf replacement is — from a municipal cost-benefit perspective — one of the most expensive water conservation investments for cities, we need to find ways to quantify the financial value of the many additional environmental benefits of turf replacement (supporting biodiversity, reducing pesticide use, stormwater management, sequestering carbon, eliminating the labor and carbon footprint of mowing, etc.)
  • Irrigation efficiency is another very cost-effective water conservation measure (fixing irrigation leaks, installing more efficient irrigation systems, and simply educating people about irrigation scheduling since many people overwater). “Replacing the grass doesn’t stop the sprinkler head from leaking.”
  • There is a need for training landscapers designers, architects, and irrigation professionals to design, build and maintain water efficient landscapes of the future. Western Resources is working on a report about landscape and irrigation certification programs for landscape professionals. CO has no required certification, 10 other states do. 
  • Equity issues were discussed in light of the fact that turf replacement incentives are mainly used by people in higher socioeconomic groups. Speakers suggested funding public projects in underserved areas where people spend time, supporting low-income water customers who have abandoned landscapes, and investing in indoor retrofits that would allow people to invest in their landscapes. Some cities offer higher rebates for Garden in a Boxes for income qualified residents ($100/box vs $25/box).
  • Denver will be rolling out a new turf policy. Denver Parks and Recreation will be replacing non-functional turf in parks and tracking a number of metrics including biodiversity. Denver has 75 million sf of turf that needs to be replaced over time! DPR wants to “show the public what this looks like and that you can balance functional use with supporting biodiversity.”
  • Colorado Springs’ water authority is working on a manual that will identify CO native grass best practices.
  • Garden in a Box – Kate Larson from Resource Central (RC), said RC is trying to move towards a fully native plant selection for their Garden in a Box, and they are now at 80% (although I don’t know if RC is defining “native” as CO, regional, or North America). The #1 reason people say they buy the Garden in a Box is to save water, and the #2 reason is supporting pollinators. RC’s DIY homeowners spend, on average, $2/square foot on turf replacement.
  • The “CO Best Practices Guidebook” for municipal water providers is being updated and will include more of a focus on reducing outdoor landscape water use and “Coloradoscaping” (although a definition for this new term wasn’t clearly defined as using plants native to Colorado).

If you would like to write or contribute to this column, please email Danna Liebert.

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