Aurora on Monday became the first municipality in Colorado to ban cool weather Bluegrass.
The city will no longer allow "non-functional," cool weather turf, such as Bluegrass and fescue, to be installed at new development projects, redevelopment or at new golf courses. The installation of cool weather turf is also banned from medians, curbsides and residential front yards. Backyards may have up to 500 square feet or be 45% turf.
“Non-functional” turf refers to turf that is only for aesthetic purposes. Cool weather turf is still allowed on sites that use it for recreation, such as sports fields and parks. Also getting the nix are outdoor ornamental water features, such as waterfalls, ponds, and decorative fountains.
Council approved the ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, instating turf restrictions through a second reading on Monday with little discussion.
The move comes as a water crisis looms over the Colorado River, which supplies a quarter of Aurora’s water. Current water law stipulates that Colorado and the six other basin states receive 15 million acre feet of water annually, but the river is over-appropriated — there’s much more demand for the water than there is supply — and that gap is growing.
During August discussions, Aurora Water’s general manager Marshall Brown said the proposal is the city’s attempt to become a community “that doesn’t get affected as much by these stressors.”
In three years, the city is slated to undergo a third-party economic study that will evaluate the ordinance’s effect on water usage, water rates, home values and prices in the city. Those findings will then be presented to the council.
The ordinance passed on Monday says irrigated water and water filtered through ornamental features “severely limits the amount of water that can be recaptured by Aurora Water’s Prairie Waters potable reuses system.” That’s because it is either used by plants or evaporates.
The council gave unanimous approval to the bill on first reading last month. As the bill started making its way through the approval process, the city distributed a fact sheet outlining the water challenges it faces.
Outdoor use accounts for half of the water used in Aurora every year, according to the city. Cool weather turf requires as much as 28 inches of precipitation or irrigation, but Aurora receives less than 15 inches of precipitation annually.
Aurora has emerged as a leader in municipal efforts to address water shortages amid drought and climate change. In August the city joined Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo utilities, plus out-of-state public water providers and municipalities, in sending a letter and memorandum of understanding to the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton outlining their own agreed-upon plan.
Part of the plan called for turf replacement programs and eliminating bluegrass lawns. Other measures pushed by the providers included water reuse and recycling programs, and energy efficiency programs addressing indoor fixtures and appliances. Water and land use planning should also coordinate more, the providers said.
On Monday, the council threw its support behind the MOU with a new addition – plans to reduce the city’s non-essential turf in common areas, such as medians and curbsides by 30%. Marshall said staff will form more detailed plans to attain that goal and put them before council in 2023.
“Water supplies in the west are severely stressed,” Marshall said.
Councilmember Dustin Zvonek asked how the MOU will help when the agriculture industry is the largest user of water from the basin.
“We could turn off water in every state in the basin, every municipality, and it wouldn’t address the issues,” he said. “It’s agriculture.”
Marshall said it’s true that the city’s plans will “only make a small dent in the overall usage” of the Colorado River basin but insisted the city needs to lead by example. That could show the agriculture industry municipalities are serious, he said, and encourage them to also pursue water conservation.
“This is just a first step,” Marshall said. “It’s a significant first step.”
Marianne Goodland and Lindsey Toomer contributed to this report.