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

It would also limit the amount of the grass that can be in backyards and prohibit it from being used in common areas unless it’s in an active recreational area such as a sports field. Similarly, the turf can only be placed in commercial and multi-family developments as well as schools if they are active recreation areas, not for aesthetic purposes.

If the City Council passes the ordinance, it would take effect next year for new developments and redevelopments.

“We’ve had prolonged drought, compounded by a warming planet, that is forcing us to face a new reality of scarce water resources,” said Mayor Mike Coffman, who is working with city staff on the proposed ordinance. “I just think the longer we wait to address the problem, the bigger it’s going to get and the more dramatic the solution will have to be.”

With increasingly expensive water rights and demand for growth, Coffman said the city, and even the state, can’t continue using water like they’re used to, and the water rate costs would go up for everyone. The proposal seeks to get rid of “nonfunctional” grasses that use more than 15 inches of supplemental water and water features that only serve an aesthetic purpose.

The current proposal calls for banning ornamental water features such as coy ponds, waterfalls or fountains as well as cool-weather turf on medians or curbside landscaping. In single-family home backyards, turf would be restricted to 45% (as is already required) or 500 sq. ft, whichever is smaller. There is an exception for the front lawns of “alley-load homes” that can’t install turf in the back of a home, so they could have turf in the front lawn, with restrictions.

Aurora would be the first city in Colorado to place limits on grass use to this level, modeling parts of it after what’s happening in Las Vegas, according to Greg Baker, spokesperson for Aurora Water. In Las Vegas, nonfunctional grass is banned entirely, so grasses are being torn out across the city. Aurora’s current plan would only be applicable to new development.

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

“We’re emulating what’s happened further out west, especially in the data, but we’re doing it because we can see the crisis coming,” he said. “And we don’t want to get into that 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 all 12 of its reservoirs was in 2015, according to Baker, and city staff has seen a downward trend, even though the city’s water use and demands did not increase significantly during that time.

In a city of Aurora resident survey that was open from Oct. 22 to Jan. 30, 43% of respondents said they definitely agreed that nonfunctional turf in golf courses should be banned while 19% said they somewhat agreed, with 14% definitely disagreeing, 11% somewhat disagreeing and 13% remaining neutral. For banning it in front yards of new developments, the number of people definitely agreeing jumped to 54%, with 20% somewhat agreeing, 9% definitely disagreeing, 10% somewhat disagreeing and 7% remaining neutral.

Even more people said the nonfunctional grass should be banned in common areas and in medians and curbside landscapes.

Although the ordinance would only be 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 the removal of turf and placement of more “water-wise” options.

Coffman said he became “fired up” about the proposal when he learned of the new Kings Point golf development and golf course being constructed in southeast Aurora. It was agreed to decades ago, so it would not be subject to the ordinance, but future golf courses would be.

“When I heard that they could use up to a million gallons of water in the summer per day, I thought, ‘wow, we just can’t do this and continue down this path,’” he said. That’s when he approached city staff about what other areas the city could conserve water use.

The City Council is expected to discuss the proposal in a study session on July 18.

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