How Las Vegas declared war on grass amid Colorado river crisis
, 2023-01-29 07:00:20,
Fountains still shimmer opulently at casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, but lush carpets of grass are gradually disappearing along the streets of Sin City.
Despite its reputation for excess, the Mojave Desert metropolis has been factoring climate change into its water plans for years, declaring war on thirsty lawns, patrolling the streets for water wasters and preparing for worst-case scenarios on the Colorado River, which supplies 90% of the area’s water.
Las Vegas has emerged as a leader in water conservation, and some of its initiatives have spread to other cities and states that rely on the shrinking river. Its drive to get rid of grass in particular could reshape the look of landscapes in public and private spaces throughout the Southwest.
So how did Las Vegas become a water-saving model to emulate? It began with an initial phase of the Colorado River crisis two decades ago.
Lake Mead had been nearly full and lapping at the spillway gates of Hoover Dam in early 2000. Then extreme drought and heavy water use sent the reservoir into a rapid decline.
In 2002, as the reservoir level dropped, the Southern Nevada Water Authority used more than its allocation of Colorado River water. At that point, the agency’s leaders decided to pivot quickly toward conservation.
They focused on promoting cash rebates to help customers rip out lawns and put in landscaping with desert plants.
In 2003, the Las Vegas area’s consumption of Colorado River water shrank more than 16%. Those conservation gains continued as the area’s water suppliers strengthened their rules, targeting grass.
In 2004, frontyard lawns were prohibited for new subdivisions. Golf courses were given water budgets. The water authority adopted seasonal watering restrictions.
Since 2002, southern Nevada’s use of Colorado River water has decreased about 26%, even as the area’s population has rapidly grown. Per capita water use has dropped 48%.
And Las Vegas is continuing to tighten its restrictions on grass.
The state Legislature in 2021 passed a law that bans watering all decorative “nonfunctional” grass along streets, on medians, at homeowners associations, apartment complexes, businesses and other properties starting in 2027.
“For Las Vegas to be sustainable, it’s imperative,” said…
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