COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- With a limited budget, growing needs, drought and an ever-present demand for water, the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services is taking steps to reduce its "water footprint."
In recent years, the department has replaced some Kentucky bluegrass with native grasses in parks and on medians; native grasses are more drought-resistant and need less water.
Replacing grass with artificial turf on heavily-used athletic fields is another strategy being used, as well as xeriscaping (natural landscaping) and other landscaping to replace grass in some areas.
Parks & Rec also is investing more in technology to water grass more efficiently by monitoring water usage and reducing waste.
The department spent $515,000 in 2019 and 2020 on replacing irrigation systems, and expects to spend $150,000 this year; but nearly two-thirds of its present systems are 30 years old or more and replacing those outdated systems will cost an estimated $6.7 million -- a process that will take 60 years with current funding levels.
That situation is partly why the department will ask voters in November to approve a slight sales tax increase to pay for a backlog of maintenance and other needs.
Parks & Rec also plans to build or upgrade parks that incorporate some or all of these amenities. Examples are the newer Venezia Park on the city's northeast side, and the current renovation of Panorama Park on the southeast side.
The city budgeted around $4.7 million for parks watering in 2020 and used 98% of that amount, although some areas needed more than the amount of water allocated; this year's usage is expected to fall below the budgeted amount of $4.4 million because of wetter weather.
In several previous years, Parks & Rec had to apply for state grants to cover watering costs later in the season.
Parks and Rec also expects to get a significant amount of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, and allocate some of that money for new irrigation systems starting next year.
"We have five projects on the drawing board to be utilized with those funds," said Eric Becker, a special improvement maintenance district administrator for the department. "Most of that will be in the central part of town. Monument Valley Park will get updates to three irrigation systems."
Becker said that 12% of Parks & Rec's water usage is non-potable (not for drinking purposes) water, which is treated wastewater.
"That's actually our preference for watering," he said. "But there's only one distribution line we can use, and it's only feasible to use in parks nearest that line, so we're limited by cost."
Another watering improvement, according to Parks & Rec Director Karen Palus, is a new arrangement with Colorado Springs Utilities -- allowing the department to place unspent watering money during wetter years, into a fund that can be used in drier years.