Water Woes in the High Desert

Bamboo pond at Denver’s Botanic Gardens

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

Sometimes I can’t keep my mouth shut; sometimes I need to say more. Recently, I might have found a balance between the two.

Recently we traveled to Denver. This region suffered a nearly rainless summer. They receive an average of 15.47 inches of rainfall each year, but as of September 26, they’ve only had 6 inches fall. This year is dry even for this high desert region.

The urban residential areas are on watering restrictions, and while the roadsides were brown and burned, home lawns were lush greens. Evidently, the restrictions mean they water as much as possible on the three days per week of allowed sprinklers.

A couple rode in the shuttle with us from the airport. They were returning home after a month in Europe, and they were worried about their lawn.

“It’s terrible around here,” the wife said. “We spend $250 per month on 16,000 gallons of water for our lawn. It’s a crime.”

“I think it’s a crime anyone would use that much water and spend that much on a lawn,” I said before I could stop myself. “Have you thought about planting something that’s more native that wouldn’t require all the watering?”

“If I wanted a lawn that looked like I lived in the desert, I’d move to Arizona,” she said. Then she pointed out a house we passed with no front yard or plants – just rocks. “See that’s just plain ugly.”

“There are other ways to make your yard look nice without filling it with only rocks,” I said.

Water Smart Garden – Denver Botanic Gardens

My husband decided to change the subject to something in his area of expertise.

“Where does your water come from?” he asked.

“We don’t pay attention to stuff like that,” she said.

Why should they as long as the water is there when they turn on the faucet? The next day I spent wandering one of Denver’s largest bookstores. An entire section was devoted to the problem of Colorado’s water and the diversion of it into urban areas lacking in the resource.

They both became silent when I mentioned I was an environmental writer. Then the husband surprised me as he pointed out the watering going on in the median of the roadway we passed.

“Now that is absolutely wasteful,” he said. “No one should ever be allowed to water at noon. And they certainly shouldn’t have the water spraying on the asphalt like that.”

A few days later, I wished I’d gotten their contact information so I could send them some photos. I visited Denver’s Botanic Gardenswhere whole areas are devoted not to lawns and landscaped perfections, but to beautiful flowers attracting bees, birds, and butterflies.

Dryland Mesa at Denver Botanic Gardens

The original mission of the Botanic Gardens is evident as a showcase for native plants that thrive in the arid climate of the region. The Rock Alpine Garden, Water-Smart Garden, and Dryland Mesa provide excellent examples of how residents can live with beautiful yards while contributing to the environment. Native plants do more than flourish in the climate; they are a part of the symbiotic nature with the land and wildlife.

I spoke to another longtime resident of Denver who keeps a beautifully manicured lawn and green grass. I asked her if she’d ever been to the Botanic Gardens.

“I have to admit, I’ve never visited them,” she said.

Let’s hope I said just enough to convince her to go.

Denver Botanic Gardens