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Climate Change highlights the need to conserve water in Colorado.
The Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) has awarded Centerra, a 3,000 acre master-planned community in Loveland, the state’s first ALCC Sustainable Landscape Community (SLC) designation recognizing the community’s commitment to water conservation and sustainability.
To increase water conservation in managed landscapes, ALCC, Colorado’s largest green trade group, created the Sustainable Landscape Management (SLM) program to educate public and private landscape professionals on sustainable, water-conserving landscape management principles. Based on best management practices (BMPs), SLM guidelines systematically reduce water consumption and plant loss in landscapes. SLC is an extension of SLM and recognizes large water users, including master-planned and HOA communities, commercial properties/sites and retail properties for using SLM guidelines.
Hotter drier weather, declining snowpack and lower river flows has brought water conservation to the forefront. Cities and water utility providers are looking to reduce water use and landscape water waste. Through its sustainability programs, ALCC is ensuring the landscape industry is part of the solution by reducing outdoor irrigation while keeping landscapes healthy and providing environmental benefit. Landscape irrigation uses about 3% of the total water used in Colorado.
According to ALCC Chief Executive Officer John McMahon, sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative and can actively contribute to healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water; increase energy efficiency; reduce the heat island effect; and provide wildlife habitat.
“We need to use the least amount of water needed to keep landscapes healthy by using proven and vetted best management practices,” said McMahon. “Centerra’s SLC designation and sustainable landscape practices will serve as a model for other Colorado communities wanting to use less water.”
Centerra is honored to become the first community in Colorado to receive ALCC’s SLC designation and demonstrates our commitment to sustainable landscape practices and ongoing water conservation,” said Kim Perry, vice president of community design and neighborhood development at McWhinney. “We are not only cutting water use significantly, we are seeing major cost savings as well.”
Centerra has continued to reduce water consumption over the years and in 2020, compared the costs of installing, maintaining, and watering a native landscape area versus a manicured turf area. The native landscape was three times less than installing and maintaining a manicured landscape. Utility (primarily water) costs for a native landscaped area were an incredible twenty times less expensive that watering manicured turf.
“Creating and managing landscapes for aesthetic purposes alone is no longer an option if we are to conserve our native pollinators and the birds that are directly dependent on them,” said Jim Tolstrup, Executive Director of High Plains Environmental Center. “We must create and manage landscapes for their habitat potential, as well as for their aesthetic value. Indiscriminately destroying insects, or interrupting their life cycles, is counter to the goals of habitat friendly landscaping maintenance practices. The distinction of Centerra being acknowledged as the first ‘sustainable landscape community’ in Colorado is a reflection of practices that have been implemented within this community for well over a decade.”
In 2021, Centerra approached ALCC through the relationship they have with various ALCC member companies. Several ALCC member companies that support Centerra, including Brightview and Environmental Designs, have supported SLM since its inception. Because of Centerra’s ongoing commitment to sustainability, ALCC decided to pilot the Sustainable Landscape Community designation with the master-planned community.
Centerra applied for the designation, detailing how the landscape is maintained sustainably (based on practices dictated in the SLM training manual and photos of the site, which are also required). ALCC also requires that the landscape company doing the work on the property have at least one SLM designee on staff.
“Both the landscape industry and master-planned communities like Centerra are proactively seeking ways to reduce water use through sustainable landscape management practices,” said McMahon. “We want every landscape professional in the state who maintains landscapes to increase water conservation and reduce plant loss by following the same standards for landscape maintenance, using the same blueprint.”
That blueprint is a 125-page manual entitled Sustainable Landscape Management: A Guide to More Sustainable Landscapes in Colorado. It defines the proper maintenance practices to conserve resources and maximize the natural beauty of Colorado landscapes. The manual was drafted from input by landscape companies, municipalities, water providers and property managers from across the state, including the City of Centennial, the City of Greenwood Village, Northern Water, Denver Water, the Denver Metro Building Office Managers Association (BOMA), Colorado Parks and Recreation and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“Sustainable landscape practices require year-round maintenance, which some master-planned communities see as cost-prohibitive. But in the long run, they will save money by using less water, reducing utility bills and ensuring they don’t have to replace trees – one of the largest landscape expenses – because they were poorly planted and not properly maintained,” said McMahon.