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Durango to launch turf grass replacement program encouraging water conservation

Colorado water board grants and Visit Durango to contribute to free landscaping consultations, rebates
Turf is removed from the playing fields at Smith Sports Complex at Fort Lewis College in 2015. The city of Durango and Visit Durango are teaming up to tap into Colorado Water Conservation Board grant funding to offer a turf grass replacement program this year. (Durango Herald file)

Turf grass seen on sports fields, golf courses and landscaping outside large commercial buildings can be very water intensive. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

The city of Durango and Visit Durango are partnering to offer a turf grass replacement program this spring to encourage water conservation and water cost savings simultaneously.

The $50,000 program is bolstered by matching grant funds from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to offer free landscaping consultations by area professionals and a turf grass replacement rebate to eligible organizations.

Durango Sustainability Manager Marty Pool said the community has expressed interest in seeing such a program in the city ever since the CWCB launched its program after related legislation passed in 2022.

The program will only be available to large sites in order to make the most impact with available funding, Pool said. City funding will be reserved for schools, churches, nonprofits and multifamily residences serving low- to middle-income residents, while Visit Durango funding will target commercial entities such as hotels and restaurants.

While turf grass has its place and serves its function in spaces like parks and sports fields, it’s often planted in areas that would be better or just as well served by drought tolerant landscaping like shrubbery, mulch, rocks, trees, bushes and other elements that require less water consumption.

“We are recruiting landscaping companies right now that are interested in taking part of the program to provide initial consultations,” Pool said. “This is really analogous to getting an energy efficiency audit at your home or business.”

An expert will look around and provide some initial recommendations, he said. Participants won’t get a full landscaping design out of the program, but they will get suggestions on what direction to take their landscaping.

Solutions for better water conservation might be as simple as switching current turf to another less thirsty variety. Or perhaps turf doesn’t need to be replaced, rather it just needs watering less often.

The point is to identify ways to save money on water by reducing excessive consumption.

Program funding will accommodate those initial landscaping consultants, which will be free to participants.

Whoever receives a consultation through the program will be eligible for implementation rebates up to 30% of project costs or a maximum cost of $4,000.

“We really want to encourage competition and sites to get some opinions from various landscapers,” Pool said.

He said the program will encourage participants to consult with multiple landscapers, which will give them options for how to reduce their water use while keeping costs down through competition between landscaping companies.

The sorts of users the turf grass replacement program targets are probably paying $4 to $5 per 1,000 gallons of water. They could be using as much as several hundred thousand gallons per month, meaning there are hundreds of dollars that could be saved in reduced irrigation costs, he said.

Reduced water consumption won’t necessarily offset expensive landscaping on its own, Pool said. In addition to aesthetic improvements and reduced maintenance costs, replacing turf grass during new construction or renovations is a prime opportunity to make water conservation installations.

Pool said the city will begin promoting its turf grass replacement program in the coming weeks. Information will be placed on the city’s website, and Visit Durango will provide additional promotional materials.

“We are going to do more targeted advertisements simply because this isn't available to everyone,” he said. “And so we don’t want to cause confusion.”

Weylin Ryan, Visit Durango sustainability and policy manager, said the partnership with the city is the result of a 10-month community engagement process.

“It became clear that one of the most pressing concerns was drought,” he said. “As a result, Visit Durango’s Destination Management Department has prioritized addressing this issue, working closely with the city to gather accurate water usage data across different sectors such as residential, manufacturing, and lodging.”

He said the costs of watering turf grass has become a significant challenge because of drier and hotter summers. The turf replacement program aims to reduce operating costs for property owners while preserving the drinking water supply.


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