Turf war ends with agreement

DENVER - The Legislature will not place limits on the size of suburban lawns, senators decided Friday.

But like a dandelion plucked from a nice green yard, the debate is bound to come up again.

Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, guaranteed that outcome Friday when she changed her bill to limit lawn sizes into a study to be conducted this summer by the Legislature's water committee.

Roberts had been promoting an idea by Durango water engineer Steve Harris, who proposed limiting new lawns to 15 percent of a lot if the subdivision used water converted from agricultural use. Western Slope water conservation districts got behind the idea after years of watching farms being dried up when farmers sell their water rights to cities.

"No matter where you stand on this bill, you might want to contemplate what the future of Colorado is," Roberts told senators Friday.

Another 5 million people could move to Colorado by the middle of the century, demographers predict.

Roberts and her fellow sponsor, Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, passed the bill through the Senate Agriculture Committee this month despite opposition from both parties. Sponsors counted it as a victory to get such a controversial bill through its first committee.

But with cities and developers strongly opposed, Friday was the end of the line for the lawn size mandate. Instead, Roberts and Hodge amended it to tell the Legislature's summer water committee to examine ways to limit outdoor water use in cities.

With that change, the Senate passed the bill on a voice vote. Final passage in the Senate could come as soon as Monday.

But not everyone was happy. Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, questioned why the bill only called for a study of municipal water, when farms and ranches use most of Colorado's water.

"Why aren't we looking at that? Why are we just attacking our green lawns?" Renfroe said.

Roberts said she wasn't attacking lawns, and she's not trying to turn the Front Range in Phoenix or Las Vegas, where some lawns are not allowed. But she wants homeowners to use more water-efficient plants and create a "Colorado landscape."

"It's a landscape in our front yards that actually matches our topography and our climate," Roberts said.