Las Vegas proposes ban on some ornamental grasses

May 12, 2021 -  By
Xeriscape plantings (Photo: Steve Swanson)

Xeriscape plantings such as succulents use much less water than turf, which can require three to four times as much water. (Photo: Steve Swanson)

Las Vegas-area water officials have asked the Nevada Legislature to outlaw roughly 40 percent of the turf that nobody walks on, according to an Associated Press article.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) estimates there are almost 8 square miles of “nonfunctional turf” in the metro area — grass that no one ever walks on or otherwise uses in street medians, housing developments and office parks.

Ornamental grass requires as much as four times as much water as drought-tolerant landscaping like cactus and other succulents, the Associated Press article went on to say. By ripping it out, the SNWA estimates the region can reduce annual water consumption by roughly 15 percent and save about 14 gallons per person per day.

The idea to ban nonessential turf stems from similar efforts in 2003, when the water authority banned developers from planting green front lawns in new subdivisions and offered owners of older properties rebates to tear out sod — up to $3 per square foot for a maximum of 10,000 square feet and $1.50 per square foot beyond 10,000 square feet, according to Steve Swanson, branch manager for the Las Vegas Valley for LandCare.

“Ripping out turf is not as prevalent in the residential side, but from the commercial side, it’s been going on for quite a while,” Swanson said. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the client on whether or not they want to take it out.”

He adds that the SNWA has released xeriscape guidelines. For example, plants that replace the turf must cover at least 50 percent of the area.

“The whole intent is to make sure we don’t create this stark dirt environment and to make sure the city still provides a lush, green look but for a fraction amount of the water used for turf,” Swanson said.

In the past several years, efforts to rip out turf are slowing. The SNWA said the number of acres converted under its rebate program fell last year to six times less than what it was in 2008. Meanwhile, water consumption in southern Nevada has increased nine percent since 2019, and last year was among the driest in the region’s history when Las Vegas went a record 240 days without measurable rainfall, AP reported.

“If you go out to Lake Mead and look at the bathtub ring around it of water receding, it really only takes one trip to the lake to see how much it has dropped,” Swanson said. “It’s staggering how much the water level has been drawn down in the last 20-year period. We are definitely in a drought situation, and there’s not enough snowpack in the mountains to replenish what we’re taking. As for other communities using water from Lake Mead, everyone should be looking at their water consumption and seeing what they can do to refine how they’re using it and how they can reclaim as much of it as possible.”

This article is tagged with and posted in Featured, From the Magazine, May 2021, Today's Green Industry News
Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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