Opinion: It’s time for the Coloradans to tear up the grass as climate change dries up our rivers
In 2002, a drought hit Colorado. Conditions were harsh and water managers in several Front Range towns placed mandatory restrictions on outdoor water use.
the restrictions worked. Denver Water, which serves approximately one trimester of the population of Colorado, achieved a decrease in water consumption per capita of more than 15%. Lafayette saw a drop of 55%.
The measures seemed extraordinary at the time. Now they are routine.
Colorado and the Southwest have experienced the most intense drought in the past 20 years since at least the late 1500s. It is so hot and dry that it no longer makes sense to call it a drought – “mega-drought” has become the preferred term for what is happening in the region, which scientists say is developing. undergoaridification. “Human-caused climate change is largely to blame.
The warming trend has put increasing pressure on water systems. The Colorado River, which originates north of Grand Lake and supplies water to 40 million people, “is exploited”, as NPR put it this month. A study published last year estimated that the river could lose up to 31% of its historical flow by 2050. This is just the most striking example of struggling waterways. Other Colorado watersheds are experiencing similar problems.
Since 2002, Denver Water has imposed water scarcity rules essentially permanently. Guests are only permitted to water lawns at certain times of the day and no more than three days per week.
But climate change and pressures on the state’s water supply will continue to worsen, even as Colorado’s population grows and creates a greater demand for water. That’s why people in Colorado need to rethink water use more and find better ways to conserve this vital resource. They should achieve greater efficiency and, like lawn irrigation, eliminate unnecessary use. This is a responsibility that lies with both individuals and heads of government.
The Colorados have actually done a relatively good job of conserving water in recent years. In the Denver Water service area, including Denver and its suburbs, customers from January through May noted a 50 years of low water consumption, even with an addition of 600,000 people in the growing metropolitan area. This matches other efficiency trends in the South West. The densely populated Lower Colorado River states, including California, posted substantial reductions in use.
But such advances are only steps in the right direction, not the destination, as the forces that sparked them increase.
Nevada passed a law last month that basically banned weed – “non-functional turf” – throughout the Las Vegas area. The move should serve as a model for Denver.
If that sounds extreme, the city is already heading there. the Denver Code Green, which is part of the city’s building code, is a voluntary pilot program that includes water use efficiency standards, including a call for 60% landscaping to include only qualified trees , a drought-resistant ground cover, low-water shrubs and xeric grasses. These standards should become permanent and mandatory.
Individual Coloradans don’t have to wait a day to do their part. Anyone in the state who owns a property with excessive expanses of thirsty grass can right now recognize how unjustifiable it is to maintain and begin a transition to more suitable vegetation. Denver is not the wilderness that Las Vegas is, and sod has its place in Colorado. But the free weed must go. There are many resources to guide a transition to region-friendly plant alternatives, such as Selection of plants, the Colorado Native Plant Society and the Denver City Forester’s Office, which publishes a list of approved street trees. Colorado residents should plant more region-friendly trees, as they provide cool shade in the heat, absorb carbon dioxide, and beautify the neighborhood. And special attention should be paid to introducing more trees to low-income neighborhoods, which have traditionally benefited less tree cover than the rich areas.
Grass is an easy target. Single-family homes represent almost half of Denver Water Retail Customers, and half of the water these homes consume is used outdoors. But substantial water savings can also be sought indoors, with water efficient fixtures and repairs to leaking fixtures.
The legislator also has a role to play. State lawmakers in 2014 adopted water efficiency standards on plumbing fixtures sold in Colorado, and in 2019 they pass a law in part, this required new sprinkler bodies sold in the state to have a pressure regulator and meet efficiency standards. Each violation can result in a fine of up to $ 10,000.
Lawmakers can do more. For example, they can follow the example of states like California and adopt statewide minimum standards for efficient landscape irrigation, gray water use, stormwater capture and turf reduction.
Such measures ignore agriculture, which accounts for the vast majority – 86% – the use of water in Colorado. Calculating efficiency for farms and ranches is entirely different and more complex than for homes, businesses and municipalities.
But, at a time when water is increasingly scarce, when heat waves are hitting the state and where the brutal grip of climate change is intensifying, everyone must do everything to conserve every drop of it. . SUPPORT NEWS IN YOUR TRUST. MAKE A DONATION
Editor’s Note: This opinion piece first appeared Colorado Information Line, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news offices supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c (3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact editor-in-chief Quentin Young with any questions: [email protected] Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.