A new bill in Colorado would develop a statewide voluntary turf replacement program that would offer money to residents who replace irrigated grass with “water-wise landscaping.”

If the bill — House Bill 1151 — is passed, the state would offer money to different organizations and individuals — local governments, homeowners, Native American tribes, and nonprofit organizations — so that they can start on the path of turf replacement.

What is a turf replacement program?: A turf replacement program would pay individuals and organizations to replace their nonnative lawns with plants and landscaping that are adapted to the area’s natural climate, reported the Denver Post.

  • If implemented, the program in Colorado would be completely voluntary.
  • “Rather than telling people you have to, this is an opportunity for people to come and say I’d like to,” said Rep. Marc Catlin, R-Montrose, to the Denver Post.

Drought conditions: Most of the western United States is under moderate to extreme droughts, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Due to this condition, Colorado lawmakers are looking for ways to sustainably mitigate the water use within their communities.

  • “There’s not any more water out there and what water is out there is becoming really expensive, so let’s look at how we’re using it now,” said John Berggren, a water policy analyst to the Denver Post.

Wasteful turf: The bill text reads that in Colorado, “Irrigation of outdoor landscaping accounts for nearly half of water use within the municipal and industrial sectors of the state and is mostly used for irrigation of nonnative turf grass.”

  • While many irrigated-turf areas are beneficial to the public, such as parks and sports fields, much of the turf in the state is “nonessential” and receives little use, states HB 1151.

What is ‘water-wise landscaping?’: In the West, most residential and irrigated yards use Kentucky Bluegrass and other types of turf that aren’t native to the area. These grasses take large amounts of water to maintain, according to the Denver Post. There are several ways to maintain an aesthetically pleasing yard while also conserving water.

  • Utah State University’s Center for Water Efficient Landscaping defines a water-wise landscape as “functional, attractive, and easily maintained in its natural surroundings.”
  • Water-wise landscapes conserve water by using maintenance plants that are native to the land.
  • An example water-wise landscaping that is popular in drier parts of the country is xeriscaping.
  • Xeriscaping is “the practice of designing landscapes to reduce or eliminate the need for irrigation” beyond what the natural climate provides, according to National Geographic.

Would this bill be beneficial?: The bill claims that promoting efficient utilization of water resources in Colorado would:

  • “Increase community’s resilience regarding drought and climate change, reduce the sale of agricultural water rights in response to increased demand for municipal water use, (and) protect river flows.”
  • Colorado’s HB 1151 also states that turf replacement programs “provide a proven and effective strategy for reducing outdoor water demand.”
  • Previous programs have shown that for each acre of turf replaced with water-wise landscaping, one to two acre-feet of water can be conserved, according to HB 1151.

Other turf replacement programs: In Nevada, the legislature made turf replacement a requirement in areas where it was only being used for aesthetic purposes.

  • Experts estimate that this change will save up to 9.3 billion gallons of water a year, which is equivalent to about 10% of the state’s Colorado River allotment, according to the Sierra Club.
  • Los Angeles government offers residents up to $9,000 per residential property with the city’s turf replacement program, reported the Los Angeles Times.