Northern Water releases landscape templates Email
Written by Lindsay Nerad   
Monday, May 06, 2024 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

0n a morning in late December 2021, fire erupted and moved fast, fueled by intense winds, through suburban neighborhoods in Louisville and Superior. When the fire and winds calmed, 1,084 structures had been destroyed.

In the aftermath, a community advocate who lost her home in the fire approached Northern Water to inquire about landscape templates to help in the rebuilding process. In her research, she had discovered a project from Sonoma and Marin counties in California that provided landscape templates to the communities affected by the North Bay Fires of 2017. Northern Water’s Water Efficiency Department began exploring the opportunity and developed a community advisory group formed from municipal employees and homeowners in the impacted areas.

In early 2023, Northern Water hosted an informational meeting to garner insights from community stakeholders, which included employees from Louisville, Superior, City of Boulder and Boulder County. The group included planning, sustainability and fire mitigation experts, as well as a nonprofit organization focused on watershed issues and three community members who had lost their homes. This advisory committee was instrumental in guiding the project.

The meeting revealed several key takeaways, including high interest in following fire-wise principles, supporting pollinators and stormwater quality, managing significant grade variation and slopes, and cost-effective options. Additional topics discussed included a landscape maintenance manual, which is now in development, and a workshop to train contractors and others involved in rebuilding.

Drawing from the Sonoma-Marin landscape templates and advisory committee feedback, Northern Water submitted a request for proposals to develop a package of Sustainable Landscape Templates. Contracting with Norris Design, the firm developed six implementation-ready landscape templates that are designed to be water saving, fire wise, and bird and pollinator friendly. In late 2023, Northern Water and Norris Design released the landscape templates, which include full landscape plans, irrigation plans, plant guide with flammability ratings, water saving estimates, construction details and cost opinions, and a resource package. The templates address various lot needs: two for cul-de-sac lots, three various rectangle-sized lots and one for corner lots.

The Sustainable Landscape Templates pay particular attention to plant material that is not only low water but is beneficial to native pollinators and birds. The templates call for significantly less turf, resulting in 50 percent or greater water savings than a standard Kentucky bluegrass landscape. To keep water efficiency at the forefront, Northern Water requested that no more than 30 percent of the front yard be designated as turf and asked that turf alternatives, such as Tahoma 31, Dog Tuff and native grass (buffalo, blue grama blend) be included as options. In addition, the statement of work requested planting areas consisting of low-water native and climate-adapted plant material.

Fire-wise principles such as choosing fire-smart plant and landscape materials and calling attention to the importance of home ignition zones when placing plants and trees in the landscape were also included. There are several ways to accomplish this, including placing trees a minimum of 10 feet at maturity from a structure and other trees; reducing ladder fuels, such as woody shrubs, under trees; maintaining a 5-foot buffer of no plant material around the home; and using fine rock mulch rather than wood.

Beyond the Marshall Fire

When the final landscape templates were presented at a community meeting in December at the Louisville Recreation and Senior Center, attendance exceeded expectations with standing room only.

In the development of the templates, lot selection was based on actual lot conditions in the areas burned by fire. Because much of the rebuilding was taking place in unincorporated Boulder County, it was suggested that at least one of the templates reflect a large lot. Of the five remaining lots, two are pie-shaped cul-de-sac lots, one of which is modeled from a walkout basement with significant grade changes sloping towards the back, and the other with significant grade changes sloping towards the front. One small rectangle lot was modeled from the Sagamore neighborhood in Louisville, one from a standard rectangle lot and one from a corner lot. The intent was to capture as many unique landscape conditions as possible. Two of the plans have no front yard turf, and two incorporate a dry creek bed to move and better utilize natural precipitation on the landscape.

Northern Water and Norris Design teams worked methodically to ensure that plants called out in the templates were largely native to Colorado or the region to create resilient and ecologically diverse landscapes that not only look beautiful but provide ecosystem services and benefit wildlife. The plant list also includes individual plant flammability ratings taken from Idaho Firewise guidelines.

Moving forward, Northern Water will continue to develop materials around the templates and promote them as a new paradigm for residential landscapes. While the templates were designed for those impacted by the Marshall Fire, it is Northern Water’s hope that they be adopted by homeowners’ associations, developers, and individual homeowners throughout Colorado.

You can view the Sustainable Landscape Templates at

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green Now:

H-2B Update

new FAMLI requirements


2024 ALCC Platinum Sponsors