Grass Is No Longer Welcome in Vegas

Authorities hope a new law will save billions of gallons amid ongoing megadrought
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted May 8, 2022 3:30 PM CDT
Now Unwelcome in Vegas: Grass
Sprinklers water grass at a park on Friday, April 9, 2021, in the Summerlin neighborhood of Las Vegas. A desert city built on a reputation for excess wants to become a model for restraint with a first-in-the-nation policy limiting water use by banning grass that nobody walks on.   (AP Photo/Ken Ritter)

Las Vegas is the proving ground for a new Nevada state law banning “nonfunctional” grass. It is the first law of its kind in the nation, per the New York Times, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority hopes it will save up to 9.5 billion gallons of water per year. The law applies to ornamental grasses along sidewalks, medians, shopping centers, and other public spaces where someone once thought a green patch might look pretty. Notably, it does not apply to existing yards at single-family homes, golf courses, or parks, all which are subject to different conservation rules. Vegas officials flagged over 5,000 acres of nonfunctional grass for replacement by 2027. On average, it costs $9 per square foot to remove and replace; SNWA offers rebates starting at $3 per foot, but customers must shoulder the rest.

The law passed with bipartisan support. Not everyone is thrilled, but most people accept the new reality because they really don’t have a choice. The problem is Lake Mead, or lack thereof: it has shrunk every year since 2000 amid a regional megadrought and is now at an unprecedented low. Meanwhile, Vegas metro has continued to grow, taking in some 750,000 new people, according to SNWA’s Corey Enus, who spoke to Fox5 Vegas. When it comes to waste, he says faucets and toilets aren’t the problem. Water used indoors is treated and returned to the system; however, outdoor watering accounts for 60% of water usage, and most that is essentially wasted.

Expert John Fleck at the University of New Mexico told CNN that “a little patch of grass is not terrible” in a backyard where the kids play, but Nevada and other communities in the Southwest need to adapt to a new paradigm. Where an expansive green lawn was once a status symbol, he hopes “the brown lawn [will] be a badge of honor.” If you’re going to irrigate something, he suggests nurturing appropriate trees, which provide shade. CNN points out another bonus: less grass will mean less pollution from lawnmowers, weed whackers, and fertilizers. (More megadrought stories.)

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