After a wet spring, it’s easy to forget that three-quarters of Colorado remains in drought. As the spring rains and chilly nights succumb to the summer heat and lightning strikes mountain tinder, we will remember it; Colorado is a semi-arid state. Although we cannot control the weather, we can make sure that the water we receive will go further.
Currently, the North Platte and South Platte river basins are in good condition in terms of snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) which measures the amount of liquid water in the snowpack that will be released when the snow melts. snow. Colorado’s other river basins weren’t so lucky this winter. The southwestern part of the state gained about half of the average snowpack.
The Colorado River Basin snowpack is about 89% of the norm. It has experienced a precipitation deficit for some time as evidenced by the tub rings on Lakes Powell and Mead. This basin provides water to some 40 million people as well as farms and ranches in seven states. It is also essential for our Front Range communities. Denver Water receives half of its water from this one basin.
Unfortunately, water experts expect a further reduction in the amount of meltwater flowing through the streams of all Colorado river basins due to dry mountain soils. The parched landscape will absorb moisture. Less runoff means less water will end up in our reservoirs. Since Denver only receives about 15 inches of direct precipitation each year, we depend on runoff to meet our water needs. Essentially, our reservoirs are our water bank. Since we are receiving fewer deposits, we need to reduce our withdrawals.
Replacing old plumbing fixtures and appliances with water efficient ones is a good way to reduce water consumption. Coloradans can, however, gain even more water efficiency by picking up a shovel. Half of the water consumption of single family homes goes to outdoor water use. Your lawn is thirstier than your dishwasher. Reducing some of its square footage with other plants will not only lower your water bill, but help conserve our state’s most precious resource.
According to Denver Water, replacing 100 square feet of lawn with low-water plants will save a homeowner 1,000 gallons of water in the first year. After three years, the savings increase as the plants have an established root system and need even less water. You can create a lush look with low-water bushes such as spirea, sand cherry, lilac, downy serviceberry, cinquefoil, Oregon holly berry, juniper, and broom.
Once established, silver lace, Virginia creeper, and trumpet vine require little water. I also recommend sage, yarrow, single bud, yucca, sulfur, mint, and succulents. Flowering plants attract butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds. Consider adding native plants such as broadleaf plantain, purslane, and crow’s feet which are tasty in salads and require no maintenance. Native cacti are spectacular flowers and you will never have to scream, “Hey kid, get out of my lawn”.
Look for Plant Select plants at your local garden store. These plants are selected by Colorado State University, Denver Botanical Gardens, and other horticultural professionals for their attractiveness, hardiness, and low water consumption. You can find great ideas on the websites of CSU Extension, Denver Water, and the Denver Botanical Gardens. Local garden centers can also help. “Bring me a [low water] shrubs! Even if they don’t get the Monty Python benchmark, they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
With a little trowel and error, you can create a beautiful garden with water and be part of a solution to a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon.
– Krista L. Kafer is a weekly columnist for the Denver Post. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer