As drought worsens, new Nevada law bans all ‘non-functional’ turf by 2026

This story is part of a series on how Las Vegas is coping with its water shortage and what Utah can learn from its efforts. Click to learn more: Part 1, Part 2 – Sidebar.

North Las Vegas, Nevada • Patricia’s Council stood on her front yard and smiled, happy to finally see her lawn go.

“I decided to convert it, first because of the water issue,” he said. “The water is rising around here, so it costs a lot of money.”

In the summer, the city said it would pay up to $165 a month to water its lawn. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is paying her $3 a square foot to get rid of her turf, and landscaping crews that are under contract with the agency are tearing up the grass.

“I don’t have anyone to help me much. So I just have to do as little maintenance as possible and make it look nice,” the Council said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers with Foxtail Turf remove grass from Patricia Council’s North Las Vegas backyard, replacing it with artificial turf on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

As the landscapers tore up the sod, rolls of artificial turf were stacked nearby. The municipality decided to install artificial grass and desert rock. She will keep the flowers she has grown in pots around her yard. A tree shades most of his yard and palm trees grow nearby.

“You know you’re not really walking on grass, but it doesn’t make much difference. It is soft and pleasant,” the Council said of the artificial turf.

The municipality said it was pleased to see its water bill drop dramatically. Her lawn will still look green, even if it’s just a mirage in the desert.

“Nearly 20,000 homes over the years we’ve done this,” said Michael Nelson, the president of Foxtail Turf, an artificial turf company.

With the drought and growing demands for conservation, Nelson said business has been good. His company has expanded into Utah, where people are weighing alternatives as state leaders continue to call for conservation during the drought.

“It’s a desert. Most people don’t realize this. Utah gets snow and rain and has all four seasons. Many people don’t realize that six weeks of snow and skiing have been lost to climate change,” Nelson said.

But Nelson noted some stark differences between the way Nevada handles outdoor water use and the way Utah does.

“The problem with Utah is that we’re one big family with separate sections,” he said of different city-to-city policies. “So in one area they might say, ‘Oh well, the HOA has agreed to a new territory.’ There’s another area around the corner, there’s no turf. So we need to get rid of this mindset and get into the new way of thinking,” she said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Nelson, with Foxtail Turf, talks about turf before a crew removed the grass from Patricia Council’s North Las Vegas courtyard and covered it with synthetic turf on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

Instead of a patchwork of policies, Las Vegas has pioneered a sweeping turf removal policy that is sweetened with incentives and is gaining more traction.

Las Vegas has embraced things like artificial grass “because it’s the middle of fall and we’re sweating it,” Nelson added.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority pays for turf removal incentives through water fees and new hookups. John Entsminger, the authority’s chief executive, said they’ve spent $15 million on incentives so far this year.

“We look at it as a protection of the resource,” he said of the water.

In Utah, local water districts offered anywhere from $1 to $1.50 a square foot — significantly less in incentives than Southern Nevada’s $3 a foot.

Nevada’s strict outdoor water conservation laws began as volunteer efforts. But ultimately, political leaders came to the conclusion that volunteering would only go so far.

“We are one of the leading municipalities to create an incentive for turf removal. Over time, as it’s been utilized, we’ve seen the numbers go down, we’ve increased the incentive. But ultimately there were some communities that hinted that they didn’t care how high it was for an incentive — they like the look of it,” said Democratic Assemblyman from Nevada Howard Watts, who represents the Nevada area. vegas.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patricia Council’s North Las Vegas backyard after its grass was replaced with artificial turf, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.

The flow of the Colorado River has decreased about 20% since 1900, and the water level of Lake Mead has dropped dramatically. With temperatures in the Colorado River Basin projected to rise another 2-5 degrees by 2050, river flows could shrink by 10% to 40%.

These declines and projections have sparked a sense of urgency to rapidly reduce water consumption. Watts said the amount of water the grasses collectively use is about 10 percent of what southern Nevada can draw from the Colorado River and Lake Mead.

“Remember, we are in the Mojave Desert. We get 4 inches of rain here a year. Grass doesn’t grow naturally in the Las Vegas Valley,” Watts said. “Does it have a use in our community for recreation? Absolutely. water when we open the tap?

The Nevada State Legislature went even further when it passed a Watts-sponsored bill that will by the end of 2026 ban all “non-functional turf” in Southern Nevada in streets, reservations, parking lots, traffic circles and other areas in which is used for aesthetic and non-recreational purposes. The ban is also retroactive. It requires the removal of non-functional turf in those areas by the end of 2026. It’s the first law of its kind, Watts said.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Assemblyman Howard Watts in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, September 30, 2022.

“Non-functional grass” is aesthetic public grass that is not actually used. In this context, these are strips of parkland or ornamental grass in front of retail stores or office buildings and apartment complexes. These are areas targeted by policy makers in both Utah and Nevada as examples of places to conserve water.

“We’ve had incentive programs for years where people can voluntarily replace their grass with landscapes that are more water-friendly. This is actually gone and requires properties to adapt and replace that herb. It’s mandatory,” she said.

Driving in the Las Vegas metropolitan area, non-functional turf can be seen everywhere: on the median islands, in front of malls and shopping complexes. Entsminger said he’s cleared a lot of ground, but he still has a long way to go.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve hauled off enough peat in this valley to spread an 18-inch-wide piece of sod around the globe at the equator. We removed a lot of grass. But we estimate that when we implemented the non-functional turf ban, there were 3,900 acres of sod in the valley,” she said.

So far, Utah’s political leaders have largely resisted the imposition of further restrictions. Instead, they continued to urge residents to do their part by voluntarily cutting off water use. Watts defended the mandatory nature of their laws as a measure to conserve water. She emphasized the bills passed with bipartisan support and very little pushback from residents.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures. I think it’s about time every state along the river looked at these big, bold policies,” he said. “Las Vegas is proving that it can be done, it can be successful, and it can be done with community support.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers with Foxtail Turf remove grass from Patricia Council’s North Las Vegas backyard, replacing it with artificial turf on Thursday, September 29, 2022.

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners with news, education and media organizations to help educate people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake and what can be done to make it better. difference before it’s too late. Read all our stories on


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