As Colorado’s colorful foliage turns gold this fall, it’s easy to relish in the mountain beauty, or—for those of us who live in the state’s urban areas—to appreciate the aesthetics of landscaping. But when important discussions about water conservation arise, urban landscapes get a lot of flack, and for good reason. During Colorado’s summers, lawns, trees and gardens consume the majority of water delivered to residences, with many municipal water suppliers citing urban lawn watering and irrigation as the single largest demand on their supplies.
Water efficient landscaping and irrigation technology is crucial to securing our state’s water future, and at the same time urban landscapes are valuable, as Kristen Fefes, executive director of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) writes:
Trees, grass and plants don’t just look good, they have important jobs—enhancing our environment, increasing property values, and improving our health and quality of life. As Colorado braces for future water shortages, it is important to recognize the value of plants in our communities.
Reducing Air Pollution. The leaves of trees and plants remove dust from the air and absorb other pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. An average tree absorbs 26 lbs. of carbon dioxide from the air each year and in turn produces oxygen. Grass provides the same function. One tree or a 2,500‐square foot lawn each release enough oxygen daily to supply a family of four.
Green spaces cleanse our water. When water is allowed to run through landscapes, it typically exits cleaner than when it entered, reduces stormwater runoff, and keeps pollutants out of groundwater. In contrast, impervious surfaces like asphalt and concrete quickly usher water and pollutants into the stormwater system.
Outdoor Air Conditioning. Trees in cities mitigate rising temperatures by shading hot pavement and cutting energy consumption in buildings. The front lawns of eight houses have the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning. As a comparison, the average home has an air conditioner with just a 3- or 4-ton capacity.
A turf grass lawn will be 15 degrees cooler than bare soil and 30 degrees cooler than pavement or rock.
Landscapes increase property values. Attractive landscapes boost the curb appeal that draws homebuyers, shoppers, and other customers. Businesses with attractive and well‐maintained landscapes enjoy more retail traffic, higher occupancy rates and reduced crime. Landscaping can add as much as 14 percent to the resale value of a building or home and speed up its sale by as much as six weeks.
Landscapes provide health benefits. Locally, home‐grown produce means healthy food on our tables and saves consumers money. Gardens are a source of refuge for many, helping to reduce stress and improve mental health.
Healthy plants reduce the need for chemical intervention to control pests. There is a direct connection between the health of well‐maintained plants, trees and grasses and the judicious use of pesticides and fertilizers. Healthy landscaping that is properly maintained will typically outcompete most weeds, have fewer insect problems and avoid diseases.
To maintain and benefit from our urban landscaping, while also being cognizant of water’s scarcity, outdoor efficiency improvements are among the most important municipal water conservation efforts Coloradans can make.
Interested in water conservation and efficiency? Check out CFWE’s Citizen’s Guide to Colorado Water Conservation which just came out over the summer for information on efficiency water use in homes and cities, in commerce and industry, and in agriculture. You can order your copy online or order your copies in person next week at the Sustaining Colorado Watersheds Conference.
Kristen Fefes joined ALCC’s staff in 1999 as deputy executive director and was named executive director in 2001. In addition to running the business operations of ALCC, she focuses her time on strategy implementation, industry relations, governance issues, leadership development, and national/state government affairs. Prior to her work at with ALCC, Kristen worked at a Washington, D.C. public relations firm where she served as membership and conference staff for two national trade associations, and also worked with a number of agency clients on public affairs and media projects. She also spent a year as public affairs director for the Operation Respond Institute, another D.C.-based not for profit that assists the railroad and first responder communities. Kristen earned her Bachelor’s degree in History and English from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. A Denver native, Kristen and her husband Demetri have two sons, Michael and Peter.