DENVER — Colorado lawmakers on Friday backed off a plan to conserve water by limiting the size of lawns in new developments, avoiding a clash between developers and environmentalists as the state tries to deal with limited water and a booming population.
Sen. Ellen Roberts, a Durango Republican, argued her case Friday before a Dust-Bowl-era photo of southeast Colorado and charts showing the state's population. The Dust Bowl, which hit Colorado, Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle in the early 1930s, was caused by improper farming practices and forced thousands from their homes.
Roberts argued that the lawn limits would help acclimate newcomers and force them to discover drought-tolerant plants better suited to Colorado's semi-arid climate.
"It's not the same thing as growing a lawn in Oregon or Pennsylvania," she said.
But Roberts ran into opposition from her own party. Other Republicans said the lawn limit idea was too heavy-handed on local governments, which control zoning and local land use. And some argued the bill improperly targeted residential water use but not agricultural water use.
"Why are we just attacking our green lawns?" asked Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.
Roberts insisted the limit would apply only to new developments.
"This is not going to ask anybody to go rip up their lawn," she said.
Roberts was pushing a proposal that would have started a new requirement for developments built after 2016 to limit the lawn area of its lots to 15 percent in cases where the development's water supply has been diverted from agricultural irrigation purposes to municipal or domestic use. The limit wouldn't have applied to new developments using "raw water" irrigation, such as rainwater or snowmelt.
The Senate amended the bill and decided to study the lawn problem instead, sending the question to a committee of 10 state lawmakers that reviews water policy and suggests new laws. The Colorado Water Conservation Board won't look at the 15 percent limit, but would instead be broadly instructed to look at residential and municipal water use.
The bill awaits a more formal vote in the Senate before it heads to the House.
Even in its weaker form, it sparked a lively debate among both parties about how boldly Colorado needs to address drought, water use and population growth.
Sen. Vicki Marble, a Fort Collins Republican, said Colorado needs to build more water storage, not limits on household lawns.
"We can restrict ourselves into oblivion and the greatest Dust Bowl we've ever seen," Marble said.
Roberts said the bill would have set the first statewide lawn limit of its kind anywhere in the nation. Some municipalities already limit lawns, and the water district serving San Antonio, Texas, last year offered homeowners $100 vouchers in exchange of removing at least 200 square feet of lawn.