Lawn Gone: Durangoans Remove Grass to Save Water and Make a Statement

On May 15th, local water engineer Steve Harris and his wife Lourdes, conducted a ceremonial lawn removal party at their home in Durango. They invited a few other concerned residents to join them, and together they made a statement: It’s time to stop wasting water. One place to start is on lawns we don’t need. “If the only time you walk on your lawn is to mow it, you probably have more lawn than you need,” has become the mantra of Harris. Or another way to think of it, stated Harris, “Unneeded lawn is the like tamarisk." Of course, one lawn is literally a drop in the bucket in the overall picture, but it’s a reasonable start, Harris said.

Of water used inside the home, about 95 percent is treated at a wastewater plant and quickly returned to the river system. Of water used to irrigate lawns, about 30 percent returns, and only after many months, he said. “As far as savings, until you take away the consumption you really haven’t saved anything,” said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District and a roundtable member. Here’s the crux of what concerns state water policy experts, particularly those in agriculture: As development occurs, particularly on the populous Front Range, cities buy up farms and their water rights in order to provide a water supply for new residents and farmland disappears. They call it “ag dry-up.” Harris said that as Colorado’s population grows from about 5 million now to an estimated 10 million in 2050, this ag dry-up, mostly from agricultural lands in the South Platte and Arkansas river basins, will amount to 300,000 acres. In 2014 Harris helped state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, create Senate Bill 17, which originally would have limited the size of lawns in new suburban developments if the water supply was from ag dry-up. It failed. A lawn is just a small, symbolic start, but Harris said he wants to get people thinking on the bigger scale.