Colorado Springs is located in a dry, semi-arid climate where water is a limited resource. As our population grows and the weather and climate become more unpredictable, the efficient use of water becomes increasingly important. Water we save today is much less expensive than finding new water sources. This is why Colorado Springs Utilities’ Integrated Water Resource Plan includes water efficiency as a source of future supply. 

To further this effort, Utilities proposed new water-wise rules to City Council in 2019. Considered foundational water practices in Colorado, water-wise rules are intended to encourage the wise use of water every day. The new ordinance was passed in December 2019 and is now in effect.

  1. Watering with sprinklers is limited to any three days of your choice per week. 
    1. From May 1-Oct. 15, sprinklers can’t be operated between 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
    2. Allocation plans are available for those who need more watering schedule flexibility.
    3. Drip irrigation, watering cans, and hose watering with a shut-off nozzle are allowed at any time.
  2. Permits are required for Utilities customers who need to temporarily water more than three days a week to establish new landscapes.
  3. Broken or leaking sprinkler systems are required to be fixed within 10 days.
  4. Water runoff from irrigation flowing across the ground, street or sidewalk is prohibited.

These ordinance changes are expected to meet 10 percent of the efficiency goal outlined in the Integrated Water Resource Plan. This also aligns Colorado Springs with other Front Range cities.

How does the City work to conserve water?

All Coloradans share the responsibility of conserving water, and the City of Colorado Springs is no exception. The City strives to balance its responsibility to provide excellent public service, which includes maintaining its vibrant landscapes, while also efficiently using water. 

Efficient facilities

The Office of Innovation and Sustainability is systematically replacing toilets and faucets with new, low-flow fixtures in City owned and operated facilities. 

Water-wise landscaping

The Innovation and Sustainability department also implements turf conversion to native grasses at facilities that have grass as well as other water-wise landscaping features. An example of this is the new landscaping at City Hall.

The City department that uses the most water is Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services (PRCS). It is responsible for maintaining nearly 800 acres of irrigated parks, 80 acres of irrigated medians, and roughly 220,000 urban street trees and 20,000 park trees. Here are some of the ways PRCS actively works to conserve water while maintaining our green infrastructure.

Smart irrigation controllers and rain sensors

Over the last 10 years, water conservation has been a primary focus area of the PRCS department. This effort has led to the systematic installation of smart irrigation controllers in all 150 of the City’s irrigated parks.

These controllers help protect against overwatering by allowing technicians to program vital pieces of information like soil type, plant type, root depth, microclimate, sprinkler precipitation rate, and slope of the irrigated area. Weather data from a network of weather stations around the city is sent to the controllers each evening so the appropriate amount of water can be applied.

Irrigation flow sensors and master valves have also been installed at the majority of the City’s irrigated parks. These devices work in conjunction with the smart controllers to pinpoint when something is amiss like broken sprinklers and leaks. When this occurs, the system automatically shuts itself down and sends a detailed report to technicians. This saves water and maximizes technician efficiency. 

Installing smart irrigation controllers and flow sensors in all City-owned and maintained medians is now in the works and expected to be complete over the next 3-4 years. Currently five of the 34 downtown medians have this technology. 

All City park and median irrigation systems are equipped with a rain sensor. These water-conserving devices connect to an automatic irrigation system that causes the system to shut down in the event of rainfall. These devices can save 5-10% of landscape water use and pay for themselves in a single rain event. 

Turf conversion and water footprint reduction

Another water-saving measure pursued by PRCS is turf conversion. Kentucky bluegrass is the standard grass of choice in most Colorado landscapes and city parks. Although bluegrass is undoubtedly beautiful, it’s not native to Colorado and requires a high level of maintenance and water. 

Over the last 10 years, approximately 10%, or 100 acres, of the Kentucky bluegrass found in City parks has been replaced with native grasses and other landscape treatment better suited for our climate. 

An example of this conversion is Keller Park, a 17.5 acre neighborhood park located in the northeast part of the city. When this park was built in 1976 it was predominantly established with Kentucky bluegrass . In 2013, 7.5 acres were converted to a midgrass prairie mix that is native to our area. The new native grass is not only beautiful and green, it has also decreased watering by at least 50 percent and maintenance costs by 70 percent. This means fewer taxpayer dollars are being used for maintenance, and the return on investment for this project was less than one growing season. 

The installation of artificial turf on playing fields and utilizing rock and wood mulch in parkway strips are other examples of conversion efforts being taken by PRCS.

Reclaimed water

About 90 acres or 11% of irrigated park acreage is watered using reclaimed water. PRCS is always looking for opportunities to expand its usage of reclaimed water, however, associated infrastructure costs often make it prohibitive.  

Irrigation technicians

All Park employees responsible for irrigation management use smart phones that can manually and remotely operate the irrigation system controller and check its operating status. Technicians are also alerted via text when there is a problem with the irrigation system. 

Park design

When parks are either newly built, like John Venezia Park, or redesigned, like Panorama Park, water conservation is a high priority. 

Opened in 2017, Venezia is a great example of a park designed for our climate. It is a 30-acre park with only two acres of bluegrass. It also features intentional use of synthetic turf on athletic fields and playing areas, as well as 7.5 acres of native grass. In addition to its playground space, the park also has landscape beds with woodchips, rocks, appropriate plants and a highly efficient sprinkler system with rotary nozzles. 

The design concept for Panorama Park, which recently completed a master plan process, is very similar to Venezia from a water conservation perspective.

Water use at municipal golf courses

The City of Colorado Springs owns two golf courses – Patty Jewett and Valley Hi – that operate as City enterprises. The courses use a variety of practices to conserve water. 

The courses strive to maintain a critical balance of using just enough water to keep grass alive while also ensuring turf is playable throughout the day. A computerized central irrigation system and the use of on-site weather stations with soil moisture meters help maintain that balance. 
Both courses also use reclaimed water to irrigate the turf. Another best management practice is the timely use of fertilizers and surfactants throughout the year to maintain a healthy plant that can withstand both environmental conditions and play.  

Looking for tips on how you can conserve water?

Colorado Springs Utilities – an enterprise of the City of Colorado Springs – has many online resources available for those interested in learning how to conserve water including free water wise landscape workshops. Visit their site and navigate to the “Ways to Save” tab to learn more.