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Aurora ordinance would ban grass in some areas of new developments

Cool weather turf would be restricted to 45% of the backyard, or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.

AURORA, Colo. — Water can be a scarce resource in Colorado and the City of Aurora is trying to get ahead of that.

The city is considering a first of its kind ordinance that would restrict the use of cool weather turf in new developments and new golf courses beginning next year.

According to the city, Aurora averages just 15 inches of precipitation each year, and said that cool weather turf typically requires "substantial watering" to survive. Outdoor usage accounts for roughly 50% of water usage annually in Aurora, according to the city.

Turf means any cool season species, variety or blend, including but not limited to Kentucky bluegrass and Fescue, according to the city. In general, it would include those with an annual irrigation water requirement greater than about 9.3 gallons per square foot.

The ordinance, if passed, would prohibit turf for aesthetic purposes only, but would allow it in new developments "in active or programmed recreation areas."

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Those are defined as an area with a primary function of sport field but can also accommodate secondary functions, including but not limited to non-organized sporting events, cultural activities and organized social gatherings.

The ordinance will prohibit turf in common areas, medians, curbside landscape and front yards.

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For backyards, turf would be restricted to 45% of the yard, or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller.

"Every season about mid-June it would just start to die down because it got so hot," said Aurora resident Theresa Turner.

Turner was getting tired of looking at the yellowing, burnt grass in her front yard. Seven years ago, she decided to change that.

If this proposed ordinance is passed by the Aurora City Council, more yards could start looking like Theresa's.

Credit: City of Aurora

“I saw a golf course going through the process and was concerned about the volume of water that it takes for a golf course, particularly in the summer time," said Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman. "Knowing that we’re in a situation where water is increasingly becoming a resource that is scarce in the state of Colorado, that it was really time to act."

There are some exceptions in this proposal. The ordinance would allow turf in new developments but only for active or programmed recreation. Backyards can have grass, but it would be restricted to 45% of the space or 500 square feet, whichever is smaller. However, turf would be banned for any new golf courses, besides one that is already in the development process.

Mayor Coffman said purchasing new water rights is becoming increasingly expensive.

“We’re really in a position where if we don’t do something now and this is doing something to get ahead of the problem that we’re going to have to impose fairly dramatic policies, restrictions on the residents that are here and we don’t want to do that," said Mayor Coffman.

Public Relations Manager for Aurora Water Greg Baker said the city uses about 16-18 billion gallons of water per year. Fifty percent of that water is for outdoor use, which cannot be treated and reused.

“Traditional grass, especially Kentucky bluegrass grows very well in Kentucky," said Baker. "But, here in Aurora we get 15 inches of rain per year. Bluegrass can require up to 43 inches of water per year to remain healthy. So, you have to supplement that with 15-28 inches of additional water than we get right now.”

He said getting that additional water can be difficult.

"That’s a challenge when you’re bringing our water in from mountain sources. Our water travels 150 miles to get here from three different river basins, through tunnels, pipes just to put it on a lawn dose not really make sustainable sense," he said.

That's why Baker said it's important to take action now. 

“Right now Colorado’s kind of in an existential crisis, but we’re far enough out that we can probably mitigate it," he said. "Water-wise landscape can actually be beautiful. It can be functional and it can help cool the environment as well." 

Theresa Turner agrees.

"It's pretty amazing I think. People will stop and pull over and say, 'Wow!'" she said. "I definitely get a lot of compliments."

The proposed ordinance will go before Aurora's City Council on April 18th for a study session. 

If approved, it would only affect new developments. But, if you live in Aurora and are interested in getting rid of your grass lawn, the city does offer a rebate program where they'll pay for up to $3,000 in materials and help you design it.

The ordinance also prohibits the use of cool weather turf for the development of new golf courses. Ornamental water features, such as exterior decorative fountains, waterfalls, basins and ponds would also not be allowed.

Read the full proposed ordinance below.

It will be discussed as part of a city council study session on April 18, and if passed, would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

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