January 30, 2024—The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) has released a final report from the 2023 Urban Landscape Conservation Task Force. The report embodies a broader, state-wide movement to rethink the way we look at urban outdoor water use and holistically address municipal water challenges.
One year ago, the CWCB launched the 2023 Colorado Water Plan, sparking goals surrounding “Transformative Landscape Change”—understanding the need to start building the landscapes of tomorrow, today and more closely aligning land use plans, water use, and water conservation. By replacing thirsty turf with drought-tolerant landscaping, adjusting codes, water rates, and policies, and educating water users on best practices, urban communities can better realize sustained outdoor water savings that support vibrant communities—now and into the future.
"Even though Colorado's municipal water use is a smaller percentage of total water use in the state, municipal outdoor water use is a significant percentage of a local community's water use," said Russ Sands, Water Supply Planning Section Chief at the CWCB. "To be more sustainable and drive multi-beneficial community green spaces, we have to rethink our urban landscapes. This task force is one of many ongoing efforts we're leading to explore thoughtful and creative solutions that reduce water use while keeping our urban environments resilient, productive, and beneficial, as well as beautiful.”
The 21-member task force, consisting of thought leaders from water utilities, water conservation districts, and nongovernmental organizations, participated in eight meetings last year. The group addressed core questions aimed at how to reduce water-intensive turf, define nonfunctional turf, and address how transformative landscape change can enhance community resilience, ecosystem services, and water security.
Ten key task force recommendations and additional areas to research and analyze can be found in the report and include: advancing landscape change by preventing nonfunctional, high-water turf from going into growing communities, working to advance water-wise landscape education, and continuing to support local efforts to remove turf.
“Water is life in Colorado and we want to do everything we can to preserve this precious resource. That includes rethinking our landscapes to make them more efficient and less demanding on our water. The task force's report provides some solutions to help Colorado achieve our water goals, and continue leading on this innovative work," said Governor Jared Polis.
One actionable step in these efforts was the CWCB Turf Replacement Program, which allocated funding to 50 new and existing community programs in 2023 to replace nonessential turf and reduce outdoor watering. To explore the effectiveness of turf replacement, the CWCB also released an updated BBC Exploratory Turf Analysis on January 30 that refines and complements a similar report released in January 2023.
The Turf Program is just one of the many efforts in place to support the development of more sustainable and resilient urban landscapes across our state. A timeline of important urban water conservation milestones over the last year is listed below.
- November 9, 2022: The CWCB hosts the state’s first Colorado Landscape Summit.
- January 24, 2023: The CWCB launches the 2023 Colorado Water Plan.
- January 25, 2023: The CWCB begins the state’s first Turf Replacement Program.
- January 27, 2023: Colorado Governor Jared Polis calls for the Urban Landscape Conservation Task Force in his 2023 State of the State address.
- June 1, 2023: The CWCB holds the 2024 Colorado Drought Summit, including a Task Force panel.
- February 22, 2023: The Department of Natural Resources announces the Urban Landscape Conservation Task Force.
- September 22, 2023: The CWCB awards the largest Water Plan Grant in the Water Conservation and Land use category—a $1.5 million grant to Resource Central for turf replacement.
- November 16, 2023: The CWCB Board approves $2 million for turf replacement matching funds in the 2024 Projects Bill (to be considered by the Colorado General Assembly).
- January 30, 2024: The CWCB releases the Urban Landscape Transformation Task Force final report and the updated BBC Exploratory Turf Analysis report.
- Spring 2024: The CWCB plans to initiate another round of the Transformative Landscape Change (TLC) Challenge. Stay tuned for additional details.
“Urban landscape transformation goes beyond turf removal, it goes beyond just water savings,” said Lauren Ris, CWCB Director. “There’s so much more to explore here, it’s about shifting our mindset and shifting policy around how the state’s urban landscapes look and function.”