By Alan Gionet

(CBS4) – As Colorado tries to handle a drought and demand for its water, the future is looking less like one with lush, green lawns.

“As a headwater state where the water originates we need to look at how we’re using it and a lot of that comes down to how we’re using it in the landscape,” said the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd. “The lawns that we’ve grown accustomed to, that is not a Colorado esthetic.”

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Colorado is simply not a place of natural green lawns. It takes a lot of water to get them that way. 60% percent of the Denver area’s summer water use is devoted to outdoor uses. But with water sharing requirements with other states and long-term drought, realizing the environment and availability of water for outdoor use, the call for a change in lawns is growing louder.

“This was a long time in coming with climate change and population growth,” says Riley-Chetwynd.

“Colorado is a hard growing environment.”

It is one of the four most significant steppe environments in the world she points out. The four are the Front Range and Eastern Plains, Mongolia, South Africa and in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

“A steppe is defined by hot summers, cold winters and low precipitation.”

At their Boulder home, Christine and John Miller were working on their yard on Monday evening.

“We removed our grass and before we were using lawn sprinklers to get both the lawn and some flowers. So I’m hoping that with the drip system we can just direct it more toward our plants,” said John.

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Boulder has a program that makes homeowners eligible for a xeriscaping box of plants if they remove a significant amount of grass turf. The City, Christine believes, is looking at changing what was traditionally a lot of green lawns.

“Especially in some of these more established older neighborhoods from the 1960s,” said Christine. Their water bill she recalls was up to about $150 last summer. “I think we’re going to bring it down quite a bit.”

Losing lawns to sometimes pointy plants might sound uncomfortable. But common spaces like parks will almost certainly remain turf covered for a long time to come. But most lawns are simply decorative.

“There are a lot of benefits. A nice place to just sit down,” admits Riley-Chetwynd. “To gather for a concert or a picnic or what have you. But not every from yard of every house. Or backyard of every house.”

She is co-director of the “One World, One Water” effort between DBG and Metro State University of Denver to inform people about the need for conservation and change.

The gardens and local nurseries have an effort to ensure low water use plants are available to purchase for homeowners who want to change.

With people already helping to hold down water consumption indoors, “Low flush toilets, low flow shower heads. We have perfected that,” says Riley-Chetwynd. “Now it’s time to focus on outside.”

Alan Gionet