DAWN | Thirsty lawns could soon disappear from Aurora’s suburbs, at least in new developments, under a sweeping water conservation proposal from Mayor Mike Coffman that Aurora lawmakers signaled their support on Monday.
The mayor said he was considering 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 that sounds like a pretty dramatic change, and it is, but the circumstances we find ourselves in are dramatic,” Coffman said Monday. “It really is a safe way to go, and the fact is, all the easy water rights are gone. They’re gone.”
As well as banning the installation of turf for purely aesthetic purposes, the proposal would ban the installation of turf on road embankments 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 driveway loading properties with backyards too small for the lawn, covering the lesser of 45% of the front yard or 750 square feet.
Aurora has limited lawns for new homes for years. Currently, residential front yards cannot include more than 1,000 square feet of grass.
The proposal would also ban “the use of water in all public and private outdoor decorative water bodies and ponds”.
The proposal would not restrict turf on sports fields or in parks or require homeowners to tear up existing lawns, although Marshall Brown, general manager of Aurora Water, said the city encourages homeowners to switch to landscaping that requires less water.
Brown placed the proposal in the context of an order from the United States Bureau of Reclamation that states in the Colorado Basin will figure out how to stop using 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water by a year, otherwise the agency will use its emergency power to make cuts.
About a quarter of Aurora’s water rights come from the Colorado River, Brown said, with the rest coming from the Arkansas and South Platte rivers.
“This is not a crisis that is limited to Aurora. It’s a dry western crisis,” Brown said. “Aurora cannot continue to grow into the future as we have in the past.”
He told council member Juan Marcano that the city’s largest water users include the parks, recreation and open spaces department, school districts and the Niagara Bottling beverage company. The city already uses non-potable reclaimed water to irrigate golf courses, parks and landscaping city buildings.
Greg Baker, public relations manager for Aurora Water, later said in an email that the water used for irrigation was still not available for reuse afterwards, and so the city is trying to reduce the amount of water used for this purpose, noting that up to half of the city’s water is now used for irrigation.
Marcano expressed discomfort with the idea of a for-profit corporation drawing heavily on the city’s water, and Brown said Niagara had mentioned expansion in the past.
Both Marcano and council member Alison Coombs said they think the city should move beyond offering rebates for water-efficient landscaping and consider restricting water use in existing developments. The two also opposed an amendment suggested by council member Steve Sundberg to increase the amount of grass allowed around homes.
“I think that’s already not aggressive enough for the issues that we’re really dealing with,” Coombs said. “So not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell no,’ to make changes that would increase water use at all.”
Council member Dustin Zvonek expressed concerns about the impacts the proposal could have on home prices, saying alternative landscaping costs developers more.
“The question is how do we make sure that we balance meeting these goals of reducing (water) consumption, while allowing for flexibility and growth in our city,” he said. “We don’t know what that would do for our new home market, given that we would be in the lead, which I think is a good thing, as a city.”
Brown said Aurora’s proposal was new to Colorado and other cities had requested copies of the Aurora ordinance. Zvonek asked Brown if the landscaping cost could be offset by a reduced faucet fee, and Brown said the current draft order would include a $3,000 fee reduction.
The proposal would apply to site plans approved on or after January 1, 2023. Board members did not object to moving the item from the study session to a formal vote.