Aurora Water develops drought plan Email
Written by Adam Waters   
Tuesday, March 07, 2023 03:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Aurora Water develops drought plan for 2023  

By Adam Waters 

Despite an above average start to winter snowpack, one good year alone won’t end the worst drought in over 1,200 years. A warming climate, multiple years of below average precipitation and increased demand have created a long-term imbalance between water flowing in and out of the state’s reservoirs. 

Now, thanks to the megadrought, the imbalance has left Aurora Water’s reservoirs with less than 55% of capacity as of January 2023 – less than two years' worth of the city’s demand. In such a position, one year of lackluster mountain snowpack threatens to throw the city into a severe water emergency. 

Stage 1 drought declaration and what it means 

To avoid such emergencies, Aurora looks to its Water Management Plan (WMP) which outlines a range of increasingly strong conservation measures to curb demand and give reservoirs a chance to refill. With current conditions, Aurora Water will be asking Aurora City Council to approve ramping up enforced conservation measures by declaring a stage 1 drought for the 2023 irrigation season.  

The goal of declaring a stage 1 drought is to reduce outdoor water use by 20%. With the focus on irrigation, Aurora Water will reduce allowed watering days each week from three to two, and increase enforcement of water waste violations like excessive runoff, broken equipment and watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.  

In addition to tighter restrictions, customers will see a $1.95 per thousand-gallon surcharge on outdoor water usage starting May 1. This extra cost is intended to maintain revenue to support Aurora Water’s operational needs and quality of its services. For most customers, the reduction in usage should balance out the additional surcharge 

Landscape professionals are used to managing outdoor water consumption, but a stage 1 drought means a significant shift from business as usual. Theyll not only be responsible for reducing irrigation usage by 20% but must do so while balancing customer expectations and available resources. Recognizing the critical role landscape professionals play, Aurora Water Conservation has developed resources and recommendations to help respond to stage 1 drought 


One of the biggest hurdles during drought, and even outside of drought, is meeting customer expectations for their landscapesEven though the 20% reduction shouldn’t threaten plant health, landscape appearance may not be as lush as customers want. Communication between landscapers, property management, homeowners and other stakeholders is critical to achieve water reductions without an avalanche of complaints. 

Aurora Water Conservation staff are ready to share presentations, collaterals, articles and other outreach options to help property stakeholders understand the details and potential impacts of drought declaration.  

Large Property Watering Variance Program 

Even with a three-day per week watering window, it can be impossible to efficiently irrigate larger properties. To avoid the pitfalls of shorter two-day watering windows, properties with over 20,000 square feet of landscape can enroll in the Variance Program. Enrollment allows a property to run irrigation seven days a week as long as each zone is still scheduled on only two daysIn exchange, properties must demonstrate efficient use by not exceeding a weather adjusted recommended volume customized to the size and type of their landscape. 

Shrink the Irrigation Season 

Cooler temperatures in the spring and fall allow turf to remain dormant or at least less active, resulting in much lower water needs. Refraining from regular watering will either prevent grass from becoming fully active until later in the spring or can throttle back its activity in the fall translating into fewer weeks or even months of irrigation. 

Heat Dormancy 

Cool season grasses adapt to hot and dry conditions by going dormant. Letting them do so in the heat of summer lets properties reduce irrigation during some of the most water intensive stretches of the season. Irrigating as low as one-quarter inch per week will allow turf to remain dormant for several weeks at a time. Many customers will assume dormant grass is dying. It’s important to develop a heat dormancy plan with property stakeholders to manage expectations and target dormancy in less active or visible areas of the landscape.  

Irrigation Incentives 

Upgrading outdated irrigation equipment with newer efficient options can make it easier and more convenient to maintain landscape quality, while using less water. Aurora Water offers rebates for efficient heads, nozzles, weather-based controllers and other components to help ensure the right amount of water is delivered where intended. 

Grass Replacement Incentive Program  

In Colorado’s climate, cool season grasses are a very water intensive landscape choiceAlternatively, water-wise landscapes provide functional and aesthetic alternatives to both reduce water usage and provide a vibrant landscape, even during inevitable cycles of drought. Aurora Water’s Grass Replacement Incentive (GRIP) program for residential properties provides financial assistance for materials and some labor (residential properties only) to convert public facing turf to these water-wise options.  

Visit for more information, contact information and drought updates. 

Adam Waters, water conservation specialist with Aurora Water for 10 years, helps residents, communities and the city build more sustainable water use practices. He specializes in using data analytics to identify conservation opportunities through irrigation efficiency and water-wise landscaping projects. 

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