Gardening Q&A: Does lawn watering use half of all of Colorado's water?

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Question: Does lawn watering use half of all of Colorado’s water?

Answer: Not according to CSU Extension consumer horticulture specialist David Whiting. He says in 2012, almost 90 percent of the water consumed in Colorado was used in agriculture for food production. The remaining water was split between domestic, recreational, industrial, augmentation and recharge.

Where does Colorado’s water go?
Agriculture 86%
Domestic/municipal 7%
Recreation and fisheries 3%
Industrial and commercial 2%
Augmentation 1%
Recharge 1%
Source: Colorado State Engineer’s Office, 2004

According to Whiting “approximately 7 to 10 percent of Colorado’s water supply is used for landscape irrigation, including home lawns and yards, public and commercial landscapes, parks and golf courses. During the summer irrigation season, 50 to 75 percent of a community’s water use may be for landscape irrigation.” Continued growth along the Front Range is putting a stress on the water supplies for many cities. A few years of drought exacerbates the problem.

Studies have shown “the average landscape receives twice the amount of irrigation water that plants actually need,” according to Whiting. Many landscapes are overwatered due to problems in the irrigation system. The initial design and subsequent maintenance are not implemented correctly to provide optimum use of a limited resource.

“With the rapid growth in Colorado’s population, some farmers have sold, leased, or rented water rights to communities” Whiting says. “This creates a significant shift in water use during periods of drought and creates long-term dynamics between agriculture and urbanization.” He advises water conservation to ensure sufficient water is available for all public needs.