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Colorado stormwater laws get softer

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Colorado, like many western states, has strict regulations on the use and management of water. But the Silver State has long topped lists of the strictest. As the green movement grew, cities, homeowners and landscapers rushed to embrace stormwater detention systems like cisterns and rain barrels. Colorado banned them.

Water, in Colorado, belongs to everyone, and it’s no one’s right to stop God-given raindrops from entering “the stream.” Property owners get what falls on their property, but aren’t allowed to keep any of it for themselves to use later.

But that hard-line stance is softening a bit. In 2009, the state government allowed a few pilot developments to experiment with rainwater collection systems to see if they could limit the total water use on a property.

In the October issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine, Arthur Allen takes a look at one of these first projects, and what it could mean for a new Colorado landscape.

The first of these projects is scheduled to take place at Sterling Ranch, a 3,400-acre development south of Denver that when completed will include 12,050 residential units. It has been described as one of the most ecologically friendly developments in the West, and water conservation is a primary element. The project, which occupies the last major swath of undeveloped land between Denver and Castle Rock, Colo., has required a lot of paperwork and rigorous preparation, but groundbreaking is expected in 2014.

Planning for Sterling Rance focused from the beginning on minimizing water demand, with smaller individual yards and larger shared open spaces and parks that emphasize landscape solutions such as native plant use and artificial soccer and baseball fields. The project also incorporates conservation inside the houses, with auditing for excessive water use, which would bring financial penalties. The planners expect to average 0.286 acre-feet of water consumption per household. This would be a dramatic reduction compared to the traditional usage in the area. Before the project began, the surrounding county, Douglas County, had a cap of 0.75 acre-feet, which, in response to research conducted partly for Sterling Ranch, it has subsequently lowered to 0.4 acre-feet.

The biggest water savings are expected to come from using rainwater collection as a primary source for the community’s outdoor water needs. The developers expect to be able to meet about half of these outdoor requirements with God’s very own rainwater. Cisterns above- and below-ground will collect rainwater from houses and neighborhoods.

The story, which you can read here, is a fascinating look at the inner-workings of water savings on a large scale, and should give us some very practical data on how stormwater and detention systems can impact the residential landscape. These types of systems and regulations aren’t just impacting the West, and will only get worse in the future. No matter what part of landscaping you’re operating in, the water question is one everyone will have to think about in the coming years.


October 11th, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Posted in green,water

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