Colorado’s ban on ornamental grass is currently in the works at the state Capitol
A bipartisan bill approved Tuesday by the Agriculture and Water Resources Review Committee would prohibit state and local governments and homeowners’ associations from planting new non-functional turf, artificial turf or invasive plants on any commercial, industrial or institutional property starting at the beginning of 2025. ..
The proposed ban would not apply to residential lawns.
The goal behind the proposed legislation is to reduce water use in the often drought-stricken state as Colorado becomes warmer and drier. Nearly half of the water used in cities and towns goes to watering lawns — most of which are planted with non-native grass, said Lindsay Rogers, policy counsel with Western Resource Advocates, who testified on the bill during Tuesday’s hearing.
“Our new bill makes a simple change that will have significant ripple effects,” Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Frisco Democrat, said in a news release. “By restricting the installation of turfgrass in new developments and non-functional areas, we can significantly reduce unnecessary water use and ensure we are using our water as efficiently as possible.”
The bipartisan bill is part of an ongoing effort in Colorado and across the dry West to reduce the amount of water-dependent weeds and plants that can thrive in the region’s climates with little or no supplemental irrigation. Although municipal water use makes up only 7% of average annual use in Colorado — about 90% is used for agriculture — replacing ornamental grass is an impactful tool that reduces water use, Rogers said.
The bill defines non-functional turf as turf that is predominantly ornamental and serves no function. Common examples are road medians and strips of grass between the sidewalk and the street. The draft law does not prohibit the use of grass in private residences or in places that serve a purpose, such as parks, sports fields or playgrounds.
“It’s ornamental, it’s purely aesthetic,” Andrew Hill, director of government affairs for Denver Water, said during the hearing this week.
Prohibiting the installation of non-native ornamental grasses is much cheaper than replacing turf that has already been installed, said Greg Fischer, Denver Water’s director of demand and efficiency planning.
“We really need to make this change starting now,” he added.A potential ban on artificial turf is intended to reduce the negative impacts associated with it, including the exacerbation of the heat island effect, where urban areas become hotter because artificial infrastructure reflects heat rather than absorbing it, as plants do. Artificial turf can also release chemicals into watersheds.
Colorado lawmakers in 2022 passed a bill offering financial incentives to local governments, nonprofits and other entities to replace irrigated turf with more water-efficient landscaping. Several municipalities, including Aurora and Broomfield, have approved ordinances restricting the use of ornamental grass or helping pay for its replacement.
The next draft law is scheduled to be reviewed by the Legislative Council. Four lawmakers — Roberts, Rep. Karen McCormick, D-Longmont; Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango); Sen. Cliff Simpson, R-Alamosa, said they will sponsor the bill during the 2024 legislative session, which is scheduled to begin Jan. 10.
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