Las Vegas water official says state should ban ‘unused turf’

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Steve Marcus

A drainage wash is shown with native desert landscaping at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, 8050 Paradise Rd., Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. .

Published Tue, Apr 6, 2021 (8:39 a.m.)

Updated Tue, Apr 6, 2021 (3:06 p.m.)

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to ban decorative grass on public and commercial properties, a move that would save billions of gallons of water annually.

Grass would still be allowed at residential properties and at places like parks, golf courses and sports fields.

At a meeting of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources on Monday, the Water Authority requested an amendment to a water conservation bill to ban so-called nonfunctional turf by the end of 2026.

“When we have grass in medians of parking lots, or grass bordering parking lots for grocery stores, that’s not grass that anybody is going to use,” said Bronson Mack, a spokesman for authority. “It’s grass that’s only going to drink our water resources.”

The water authority estimates changing 5,000 acres of grass to desert landscaping with drip irrigation would save about 12 billion gallons of water a year.

That’s enough to cover 35,000 acres of dry land with a foot of water. Nevada’s annual allocation of water from the Colorado River is 300,000 acre feet a year.

Indoor water use is not a concern for the SNWA because that water is recycled, while water used outdoors is not.

The grass being targeted is in areas such as street medians and around businesses.

The Water Authority already offers the Water Smart Landscapes rebate program, which provides property owners $3 per square foot of grass converted to desert landscaping for the first 10,000 square feet. After that, the rebate is $1.50 per square foot.

The program has paid for removal of 197 million square feet, about 4,500 acres, of grass.

But it can be difficult to reach decision-makers at commercial properties about implementing the program, because they may live out of state or there may be multiple levels of ownership, Mack said.

A legislative approach would provide uniformity, he said.

The proposal gained immediate backing from the Center for Biological Diversity, which pointed to the drought in Southwest states that rely on the Colorado River.

“The Colorado River Basin is in an acute drought crisis, and SNWA's proposal is exactly the sort of bold thinking we need if we're going to avoid disaster,” the center's state director, Patrick Donnelly, said in a statement.

It would also “incentivize other Colorado River states to step up and join us,” he said.

Mack said the SNWA will work with members of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources to develop language to include in the amendment.

Assemblyman Howard Watts, D-Las Vegas, the chair of the committee, said the proposal was worth considering.

“We’ve been in communication with them about the concept and we’re looking into the options to move that forward in legislation,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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