Colorado’s draught means conserving water and picking water friendly landscaping

After a damp spring, it’s easy to forget that three-quarters of Colorado remains in a drought. When spring rains and cool nights succumb to the summer heat and lightning strikes the mountain tinder, we will remember; Colorado is a semi-arid state. Although we cannot control the weather, we can make sure that the water we get continues to flow.

Currently, the North Platte and South Platte river basins are in good condition in terms of snow cover and snow water equivalent (SWE). This measures the amount of liquid water in the snowpack that is released when the snow melts. Other Colorado river basins weren’t as lucky this winter. The southwestern part of the state gained about half the average snowpack.

The Colorado River Basin snowpack is around 89% of the norm. There has been a rainfall deficit for some time, as confirmed by the Bathtub at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. This basin supplies around 40 million people as well as farms and ranches in seven states with water. This is also vital for our front range communities. Denver Water gets half of its water from this basin alone.

Unfortunately, due to dry mountain soil, water professionals expect a further reduction in the amount of meltwater that flows through streams in all Colorado river basins. The parched landscape absorbs the moisture. The reduced runoff means that less water gets into our reservoirs. Since Denver only receives about 15 inches of direct rainfall each year, we rely on runoff to meet our water needs. In essence, our reservoirs are our water bank. As we are receiving fewer deposits, we need to reduce our withdrawals.

Replacing old faucets and appliances with water-efficient ones is a great way to reduce water usage. However, Coloradans can achieve even more water efficiency by picking up a shovel. Half of the water consumption in single-family homes goes into outdoor water consumption. Your lawn is thirstier than your dishwasher. If you reduce part of the area with other plants, not only will your water bill be lowered, but also the most valuable resource of our state will be preserved.

According to Denver Water, a homeowner will save 1,000 gallons of water in the first year by replacing 100 square feet of lawn with low-water plants. After three years, the savings increase as plants have established root systems and require even less water. You can create a lush look with low water bushes like spirea, sand cherry, lilac, fluff serviceberry, potentilla, Oregon grape holly berry, juniper, and broom.

Once made, Silver Tip, Virginia Creeper, and Trumpet Vines require little water. I also recommend sage, yarrow, bachelorette button, yucca, sulfur flower, mint, and succulents. Flowering plants attract butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds. Consider adding some native plants like broad-leaved bananas, purslane, and goosefoot, which are tasty in salads and do not require maintenance. Native cacti are spectacular bloomers and you never have to scream, “Hey boy, get off my lawn.”

Look for Plant Select plants at your local gardening store. These plants are chosen by Colorado State University, the Denver Botanic Gardens, and other horticultural professionals for their attractiveness, hardiness, and low water consumption. Check out the CSU Extension, Denver Water, and Denver Botanic Gardens websites for some great ideas. Local garden shops can also offer assistance. “Bring me one [low water] Bushes! “Even if they didn’t get the Monty Python Reference, they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

With a little trowel and mistake, you can create a beautiful water-based garden and be part of a solution to a problem that won’t go away anytime soon.

Krista L. Kafer is a weekly columnist for the Denver Post. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer

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