To save water amid mega-drought, Las Vegas bans grass

LAS VEGAS – It was a perfectly decent patch of lawn, several hundred square feet of grass in a condominium community on the west end of ...


LAS VEGAS – It was a perfectly decent patch of lawn, several hundred square feet of grass in a condominium community on the west end of this town. But Jaime Gonzalez, a worker for a local landscaping company, had a job to do.

Using a heavy gas-powered lawn trimmer, Mr. Gonzalez cut the grass from the ground below, like peeling a potato. Two colleagues followed, gathering the strips to dispose of them.

Mr. Gonzalez took little pleasure in destroying this patch of fescue. “But it’s better to replace it with something else,” he said. The ground would soon be covered with gravel strewn with plants like the desert spoon and the red yucca.

Under a state law passed last year that is the first of its kind in the country, patches of grass like this, found along streets and in housing estates and commercial sites in Las Vegas and surroundings, should be removed in favor of more respectful of the desert. landscaping.

The offense? They are “non-functional”, having only an aesthetic purpose. Rarely, if ever, trampled on and kept alive by sprinklers, they waste a resource, water, which has become increasingly precious.

The grass ban is perhaps the most dramatic effort yet to conserve water in the Southwest, where decades of growth and 20 years of drought exacerbated by global warming have led to a decline supplies from the Colorado River, which serves Nevada and six other states, Native American Tribes and Mexico.

For southern Nevada, home to nearly 2.5 million people and visited by more than 40 million tourists a year, the problem is particularly acute. The region depends on Lake Mead, the nearby reservoir behind the Hoover Dam in Colorado, for 90% of its drinking water.

The lake has been shrinking since 2000 and is now so low that the original water intake was exposed last week. The regional water utility, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, was so concerned that it spent $1.5 billion over a decade to build a much deeper water intake and a new, recently upgraded pumphouse. in service, so that it can take on water even if the level continues to drop. drop.

The new law, which was passed with bipartisan support, aims to ensure that available water goes further. It is an example of the kind of stringent measures that other regions may increasingly be forced to take to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

It also illustrates the choices, some difficult, some trivial, that must be made to carry out these measures. Here, an advisory committee of community members, with the help of authority, decided what was functional turf (including sports fields, cemeteries, and some plots in housing estates depending on size) and what needed to be removed (almost everything else). The law set a deadline of 2027 for the completion of the works.

Kurtis Hyde, maintenance manager at the company where Mr Gonzalez works, Par 3 Landscape and Maintenance, said at some homeowner association meetings he has attended that residents have been very vocal about the prospect to lose grass. “People get emotional about weed,” he said.

The ban follows years of extensive efforts to reduce water use, including a voluntary ‘cash for grass’ scheme, launched in 1999, for individual homeowners to lose their lawn, watering limits and the creation of a team of water waste investigators. But with no end in sight for the drought and with the region’s continued growth, measures like these weren’t enough, said John J. Entsminger, the authority’s chief executive.

“Our community has been a world leader in urban water conservation for 20 years,” said Entsminger. “We have to do even better in the next 20.”

The decision to replace thirsty sprinkler-fed grass with drought-tolerant drip-irrigated plants can reduce water use by up to 70%, according to the water authority. The savings are even greater if the turf is replaced with artificial grass, which some prefer.

Outlaw grass is easy to spot. It is found at roundabouts and median strips, adjoins sidewalks and adorns strip malls and office buildings. It is especially prevalent in common areas of residential developments found throughout Las Vegas and nearby towns.

“There are little bits of useless grass everywhere,” Mr Hyde said.

The authority estimates that there are around 3,900 acres of grass to be removed, which could save up to 9.5 billion gallons of water per year, or about 10% of the allocation of the Colorado region.

Customers get a discount, starting at three dollars per square foot, but in most cases that doesn’t cover the cost of removal and replacement with other plants.

“The cost is enormous,” said Larry Fossan, facilities maintenance manager at Sun City Anthem, one of the largest planned communities in the area.

Even before the law was passed, Mr. Fossan was removing grass and installing sophisticated irrigation equipment to reduce water use and save money. But now, under the terms of the law, which he helped establish as a member of the advisory committee, one of the lawns around the main community clubhouse is on the chopping block.

I have to remove 53,000 square feet of sod,” Fossan said. He got quotes of up to $9 per square foot to replace grass with more water-efficient landscaping.

In addition to the cost, some residents worry that by losing so much grass — and likely many trees as well, to be replaced with desert-friendly species — neighborhoods will lose much of the character that first drew them to Las Vegas. place.

Like the city’s famous Strip, with its row of fakes including an Eiffel Tower and an Egyptian pyramid, many Las Vegas residential developments offer their own kind of whimsy. Grass and non-native shrubs and trees help mask the fact that the area is part of the Mojave Desert.

“A common opinion we’ve received from customers when recommending turf cutting in the past to save water was, ‘I bought in this community because it didn’t look like a desert,'” said Ms. Hyde.

Hoot and Staci Gibson, both retired, moved a few years ago from Bend, Oregon, to one of the city’s greenest communities. Walking through the front door past expanses of grass and shady pines, you could be forgiven for briefly thinking you were in New Hampshire rather than Nevada.

His community has already removed a lot of greenery, Mr. Gibson said. He doesn’t think he should have to lose much more.

He also has another, more specific concern: the fate of a common space at the end of his street, a strip of grass between the sidewalk and a wall. This is where he and his wife walk their two golden retrievers, Abbey and Murphy.

“We want to be good citizens,” Mr. Gibson said. “Everyone recognizes the problem of the falling Colorado River levels.”

“On the other hand, we’re trying to say, Hey, we need – in my case, I want to be able to walk my dogs.”

The panel that defined “non-functional” decided that what it called “pet rescue turf” was only allowed outside of pet-centric businesses like veterinarians. There is a process in the law where a waiver can be requested. But Mr. Gibson is not optimistic that an appeal will succeed.

Howard Watts, a Democratic state assemblyman from Las Vegas who sponsored the sod ban bill, said he would raise awareness of the scale of the problem facing the region. “The green landscape creates a false sense of security,” Mr Watts said. The law “will help people who might have a bit of a disconnect – you know, every time they turn it on, the tap water always comes out. I think it will change that.”

The water used inside is treated by the sewer system and eventually returns to Lake Mead. But more than half of the region’s water is used outdoors, and most of it is lost through evaporation. It has long been a focus of water authority conservation efforts.

In addition to its “cash for grass” program, the agency was successful in passing building codes that drastically reduced the amount of grass allowed around newer homes.

For owners who still have lawns, the agency’s team of investigators makes sure they are observed.

Early one recent morning, one of the investigators, Cameron Donnarumma, was slowly driving his patrol car along a residential street, following a stream of water running down the sidewalk. He stopped in front of the culprit, a house with a green lawn and a wet sidewalk. The sprinklers were misadjusted and much of the jet was hitting the sidewalk and flowing towards the sidewalk.

Mr. Donnarumma can issue warnings, which can escalate into violations with escalating fines. But in this case, the owner came out and was eager to fix the problem. Mr. Donnarumma handed him some water conservation literature and left.

“My main goal is to educate,” he said.

These and other efforts have reduced water consumption per person by about half since the drought began in 2000. But current daily consumption has remained largely stable for much of the past decade, when the population of the region increased by more than 20%. And more growth is provide.

At the same time, the prospects for improving supply seem dim. “None of the smart climate scientists gives us much hope,” said Mr Entsminger, chief executive of the water authority.

The authority has a new target to reduce consumption by a further 30% by 2035. The turf ban and other measures will help achieve this target and give the region time to ensure long-term sustainability. term, said Mr. Watts, the MP.

“I have the idea that it’s sort of a kick in the box,” he said. “But we need the extra time that measures like these provide to determine the way forward.”

“It’s a difficult situation,” he added. “Not just for us, it’s for the whole West.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: To save water amid mega-drought, Las Vegas bans grass
To save water amid mega-drought, Las Vegas bans grass
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