Highlands Ranch moves to add xeriscape medians

Work part of broader water conservation efforts

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Landscaping is one of Centennial Water’s biggest guzzlers when it comes to water use, but a recent effort by the Highlands Ranch Community Association to implement drought resistant landscaping at the recreation centers is hoping to pave the way for more water conservation.

The HRCA Board of Directors approved a plan to switch medians at the Eastridge and Southridge Recreation centers from grass to a xeriscape style, which will reduce watering by 70%.

“Our board and delegates are extremely concerned with conservation,” HRCA General Manager Mike Bailey said. “We wanted to show that we are good stewards of people’s assessment dollars and … we want to be leaders in the community, showing xeriscape is not simply putting down a bunch of rock.”

On average, 1,000 square feet of grass uses about 18,000 gallons per year, while the same amount of xeriscape uses 5,000 gallons, according to Thomas Riggle, the Conservation and Efficiency Coordinator for Centennial Water. 

A single homeowners' association within Centennial Water can average around 1 million gallons of water per month, Riggle said. 

“We are using somewhere around 50-60% of the water Centennial Water produces to water people’s landscaping, so we’ll see a big reduction in water usage by going to drought-tolerant landscaping,” he said.  

Work is already underway at Eastridge, with a goal to finish around Labor Day to coincide with the timing of other construction at the rec center and the planned grand reopening. Bailey said work on Southridge medians is planned to start this fall. 

“We want to put demonstrations (of drought-resistant landscape) at the two busiest rec centers, so we want to help show what true xericaping looks like,” he said. 

The savings on water will also translate to savings in money, with Bailey saying they expect to see a drop of around 50% in water costs for landscaping.

“It’s probably going to pay for itself within three years,” he said.

Bailey emphasized the change would not mean a switch to a desert or rock-only aesthetic, but rather use native species or low-water plants that will still produce flowers and offer a pollinator-friendly environment. Trees were not removed as part of the project.

HRCA contracted with Lawn Care Solutions Landscaping, in Littleton, for the work and used the Denver Botanic Garden’s list of preferred plants for drought resistant landscaping.

“The islands are an epitaph of what (xeriscape) should be -- they’re full of color and they pop,” Bailey said. “It’s just a beautiful sight year-round.”

Riggle added that the benefits of drought-resitant landscape include better soil health, increased carbon capture and a better environment for pollinators. 

Ultimately, all four rec centers will get the drought-resistant landscape treatment and looking further out, Bailey said the HRCA is developing a five-year landscaping plan for long-term water conservation efforts. 

“This has manifested into a great big conservation effort that we’re really and truly proud of,” he said.

On top of making the switch to drought-resistant landscaping, HRCA is offering to waive the $40 architecture review fee for approved xeriscape plans and reducing citations for yellowing grass yards.

Additionally, Centennial Water will rebate residential property owners $1 per square foot of grass converted to drought-resistant landscape, up to $1,000.

“I think (drought-tolerant landscaping) is one of the most important pieces of water conservation,” Riggle said.

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