The driving message of The Hidden Value of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning by Colorado State University is simply this: Investing water in Colorado’s landscapes delivers high returns. While Colorado landscapes use about 3% of all of Colorado’s waters, they deliver significant economic and ecosystems services:
- ROI Residential landscapes: For every $1 invested in the landscape, the yield is $1.35
- Rent: Commercial properties with attractive landscapes get 7% higher rents
- Crime: 25% fewer domestic crimes occur in public housing with landscapes
- Learning: Children who spend time outdoors are better learners
- CO2: Each tree absorbs 48# of CO2 annually; urban trees offset about 5% of all human CO2 emissions
- O2: Every 55 sq. ft. of lawn generates enough oxygen for one person for a day; lawns also sequester CO2
- Temps: Cars parked under trees that provide shade are 45F cooler; well-placed trees in the residential landscape can save $100-$250 a year in energy costs
The document is written to enable policy makers to understand why investing a portion of Colorado’s highly limited water supply in landscapes is a wise choice.
It’s easy to look at the landscape and simply dismiss its importance as “non-essential” compared to other water-use stakeholders like agriculture, household use and recreation. Indeed, restricting outdoor water use is generally the first regulatory action undertaken in times of drought. The authors argue that cutting off all landscape irrigation has significant unintended consequences. “Eliminating landscape water is a short-term fix that creates complex, long-term problems,” they write
Policy recommendations include:
- Base drought policy on research-based horticultural BMPs.
- Prioritize watering trees and large shrubs that cannot be quickly replaced.
- Prioritize sports/recreational fields for the physical and psychological benefits to people.
- Provide incentives to consumers to save water before drought strikes through smart controllers, rain sensors, etc.
- Maintain irrigation systems so they are efficient.
- Eliminate over irrigation/conduct irrigation system inspections.
- Educate about water saving technology and appropriate plant material.
The Hidden Value of Landscapes: Implications for Drought Planning by Zachary Johnson, Tony Koski, and Alison Stoven O’Connor, Colorado State University.
NewTerrain March 15, 2017