Every owner of a traditional detached single-family home in Colorado Springs knows that great landscaping improves both one’s property and the surrounding neighborhood. That’s abundantly clear in neighborhoods such as the North End and Briargate, where private and publicly maintained landscapes create green, leafy inviting spaces.

When Gen. William Palmer’s men drove the first stake of Colorado Springs in July 1871, contemporary photographs show a treeless prairie, broken only by cottonwoods along Monument and Fountain creeks.

Palmer wanted to attract wealthy Easterners to his freshly minted real estate promotion, so he dug irrigation canals, diverted water from upstream sources and used it to water hundreds of cottonwood seedlings that he planted along streets that had just been platted.

His legacy endures. He created the beginnings of a vast oasis in the high desert, one that would grow, endure and be renewed to this day, well over a century after that first stake was driven.

The oasis may have started with Palmer, but it has become in effect a vast multigenerational community art project, one supported annually by millions of tax dollars and many more millions in voluntary homeowner contributions.

According to Colorado Springs Utilities, “nearly half of the water used by Colorado Springs households is for landscapes.”

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Such use isn’t mandatory — indeed, a few of us have opted for landscapes that need no additional water. But many of us continue to maintain traditional landscapes with lawns, non-native deciduous trees, shrubs and flowers.

After a projected 3.6 percent rate increase slated to be approved by the Utility Board on Nov. 13, Colorado Springs Utilities’ 132,472 residential customers will have to cough up $99.02 million annually for water service, slightly less than half of the net revenue required to support CSU’s total cost. Average year-round residential demand for water is calculated at 26 million gallons per day. All residential customers pay an annual service charge of about $20 a month, which should bring in about $31.8 million, leaving about $67 million supported by water sales.

The city’s three-tier rate structure means that water for landscaping will be priced 1.5 to 2.5 times higher than water for ordinary residential use,so landscapers may pay significantly more to help support our verdant oasis.

Nonresidential customers do their part as well. Colorado College, UCCS, the military and many businesses and nonprofits maintain green space. The Broadmoor hotel’s 3,000 acres, with its elaborate landscaping and multiple golf courses, makes it the largest single contributor to the city’s irrigated landscape.

While CSU relies upon water sales to service debt and maintain the system, it also encourages aesthetically effective landscaping, trying to steer homeowners away from barren landscapes of rock and mulch.

“Of the water used by Colorado Springs, much is wasted by inefficient irrigation practices, inadequate soil preparation and improper plant selection,” according to CSU’s website. “In addition to saving water, investments in efficient, beautiful landscapes have generated significantly better financial returns than all other home improvement projects. Every $1 invested in landscaping yields a return of as much as $1.12, while $1 spent on a bathroom or kitchen remodel only yields about [68 cents] in return.”

Of Palmer’s cottonwoods, only one remains (at least to this reporter’s knowledge). It’s located on Cascade Avenue, about 60 feet south of the southeast corner of Cascade and Willamette avenues. And although the cottonwoods are gone, we’ve more than replaced them. In April, the city’s forestry department completed a sample street tree inventory from two areas — the North End and a portion of Southeast Colorado Springs.

The dominant species: green ash (20 percent) and silver maples (14 percent). More than 70 other species were identified, but let’s look at our most successful invader — Siberian elms, in third place with 10.9 percent. Mistakenly introduced to Colorado Springs in the 1950s, they’re fast growing, drought tolerant and disease resistant. But they’re the dandelions of trees, shedding thousands of seeds annually that will thrive almost anywhere. Left unchecked, they’ll take over the entire urban canopy. But gardeners, homeowners and city forestry hate them and do everything they can to get rid of them — so join them and work on your little piece of our common green heritage.

It won’t cost that much and CSU will thank you! 

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