The green industry, property owners and all of Fort Collins are benefiting from the city’s Xeriscape Incentive Program (XIP). The program generates sales at nurseries, greenhouses and garden centers, as well as work for landscape companies. It also pays landscaping expenses for property owners, and conserves water.
Started in 2016, XIP offers rebates to pre-approved Fort Collins Utilities’ customers who transform high-water use areas to water-wise landscapes. In the first year, XIP issued rebates to 16 projects totaling 17,833 square feet. In 2019, 65 projects totaling 81,619 square feet received rebates.
The program requires participants to take a class taught by city staff. The two-hour class covers program requirements, as well as quick tips for landscape design, plant selection and irrigation retrofits.
“Class attendance skyrocketed in 2020 when we started offering classes online instead of in-person. Not every class attendee pursues a project, but we are pleased to be able to share water conservation and xeriscape principles with folks who attend,” said Fort Collins Utilities Xeriscape Programs Manager Katie Collins.
Based on water-use analysis for properties who participated between 2016 and 2019, the program estimated an average of 14 gallons of water savings per square foot of area converted from high-water use to low-water use. “There are some outliers of course—those projects that convert from grass to hardscape may have more savings. We also sometimes see an increase from the pre-project use, which provides an opportunity for some extra education,” Collins added.
Single-family or small multi-family (duplexes, fourplexes, townhouses, etc.) properties can convert any landscape area, including front yards, backyards, parkway strips, and side yards. Landscape and irrigation plans must be approved prior to project installation, and an inspection of the project area must be completed prior to receiving a rebate.
Single-family residences are required to renovate a minimum of 300 square feet for a $225 rebate. They can max out the rebate amount at 1,000 square feet or $750.The average project size is about 1,200 square feet.
The rebate is a function of the area that is converted from high- to low-water use landscape, calculated at $0.75/square foot. In 2021, XIP is partnering with the city’s Nature in the City program to offer a “native bonus” rebate. Projects will receive an added $0.25/square foot if the plant list for the renovation is made up of a minimum of 80% species native to Fort Collins or Colorado.
“The native plant bonus has been a very popular change for our program,” she said. “We often hear that it is difficult to locate all the desired native species, so we encourage participants to request those species at the nursery, garden center, etc. We have some pamphlets and could print up some flyers for retail shops to post and have handy if that is of interest.”
A minimum of 50% plant coverage is required in the front yard, to maintain aesthetics, reduce heat and provide ecological benefit.
The program’s website suggests property owners chat with a handful of landscape designers to find a professional who is compatible with their landscape vision. It also recommends getting quotes from three different contractors to determine the best fit, and contact landscapers in the fall for spring installations, and in the spring for fall installations.
Collins reports that 60% of program participants are do-it-yourselfers for the entire project. The remaining 40% hire a professional for some or all of the project, such as design or installation.
The website recommends getting plants from plant swaps, as well as the following: Plant Select, CSU Extension, Resource Central, High Plains Environmental Center, and Gardens on Spring Creek, the city-run botanical garden. The website also recommends shopping local.
It also lists local landscape designers and contractors who have attended an annual XIP introduction meeting. Though that meeting already happened in 2021, interested landscape professionals can contact Katie Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org about watching a recording and the opportunity to be added to the online list.
The city launched its first round of support for commercial properties through XIP in 2020. Commercial water customers, such as businesses, HOAs, multi-family, parks, schools, faith organizations, etc., are eligible to apply for a competitive grant if installing landscape projects that demonstrate water savings. Funding is based on $1.50/square foot of area converted, up to $15,000. The commercial side of XIP is currently funded through external grants, and the City is seeking funding to continue the program into 2022 and beyond.
“The green industry benefits greatly from these projects economically, whether participants are DIY-ing a project or hiring professionals to complete a project. Participants are encouraged to lean on nursery professionals to ask questions about plant material found at the nursery,” she said.
The first step to participate in the program is to sign up for XIP Basics Training. The next and final Training for the 2021 program year will take place virtually on May 7. For more information and to register for the class, visit:
For more information about native plants and landscaping information resources: https://www.fcgov.com/utilities/residential/conserve/water-efficiency/xeriscape/incentive-program