Colorado State University researchers analyze state water use

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Photo: steve p2008/FlickrPhoto: steve p2008/Flickr

In a recent study done by Colorado State University, researchers looked at the three percent of total Colorado water used for landscapes and found a significant return on investments from that water.

The Hidden Values of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning study is the first one of its kind in Colorado that quantifies how much water landscapes used and their social, economic and environmental benefits.

“The use of three percent of Colorado’s available water to maintain green landscapes is a legitimate allocation of water resources,” said Tony Koski, professor and Extension Turf Specialist in CSU’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture.

Along with Koski, the study was also lead by horticultural agent with CSU Extension in Larimer County Alison O’Connor and associate professor in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Zach Johnson.

“We were aware of a lot of anecdotal information about the benefits of landscapes, but this is the first time the information has been synthesized and analyzed,” said Johnson.

According to the study, the following are just a few of the social, economic and environmental benefits found during research:

  • Forty-eight pounds of carbon dioxide are absorbed by one tree each year.
  • Trees provide air quality benefits for Colorado cities valued in the high six figures.
  • Twenty-five percent fewer crimes occur in public housing with landscapes.
  • Every $1 invested in a home landscape yields a 135 percent return on the home value.
  • Seven percent higher rents are paid on commercial properties with attractive landscapes.
  • Forty-five percent cooler temps occur when cars are shaded by trees.
  • Outdoor urban spaces increase mental and physical health and children who spend time outdoors are better learners.

Since the completion of the Colorado Water Plan, the study says that water awareness is at an all-time high in the state. CSU says that this study can serve as a tool for water policy makers who are tasked with ensuring there is enough water to get the state through future droughts and the projected population growth.

“When water supplies diminish, it is easy to argue that irrigating landscapes is not the best use of water but there are serious consequences when urban landscapes and parks are targeted,” said Koski. “The unintended consequences from the ‘cash for grass’ buyouts in Nevada and California resulted in trees and other plants dying and succumbing to disease when deprived of regular irrigation. It’s impossible to instantly replace a 30-year-old shade tree; the cooling benefits it provides are lost forever as is the character and functionality of parks and neighborhoods.”

Over the past decade, Colorado’s water users have reduced per capita water consumption by just under 20 percent by using better management practices on landscapes, tiered rate structures, improved irrigation technologies and increased general awareness among users that they should be conserving.

“In Colorado, drought is not a matter of ‘if’ but of ‘when,’” added Johnson. “Increased conservation is necessary for drought planning and this study provides water planners information to adopt a holistic approach by factoring in the value of landscapes when formulating water policy.”

The study also discusses cooling effects, storm water management, wildlife habitats, air quality, real estate values, community and health benefits and more.

Click here to see the study in its entirety.

Photo: Colorado State UniversityPhoto: Colorado State University
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