Responding to drought, Las Vegas bans grass for new homes
Building on existing restrictions for water use, the Southern Nevada Water Authority passed resolutions last month that ban grass for all new housing and commercial developments in the Las Vegas metro area.
The not-for-profit water agency also approved a measure to ban evaporative cooling machines, also known as "swamp coolers." Such coolers are a popular alternative to traditional air conditioners but use more water.
If approved by local governments, the resolutions could affect the 2.2 million residents who are served by SNWA's seven member agencies. About 90% of the region's water supply comes from the over-tapped Colorado River.
Lobbyists representing developers and commercial real estate interests oppose the proposed limits, arguing they needed more study.
The fast-growing Las Vegas region already has strict limits on water use, including bans on front yard grass and on grass being planned in more than half of a backyard. Also prohibited is "non-functional" grass in office parks, street medians, traffic circles, and entrances to communities that have homeowners' associations. Grass is considered useless if it "is only touched by a mower, bordering a street, or hard to get to."
Grass is still allowed at schools, parks, cemeteries, golf courses and in existing housing developments.
The Southern Nevada Water Agency offers various incentives and resources to customers that replace decorative grass with desert landscaping, use a trained "water smart landscaper" and water-efficient fixtures and devices.
Residents are also subject to mandatory water restrictions which limit landscape watering to only one day a week during winter (November - February). Sunday watering is never allowed.
The Water Authority's general manager told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he was unaware of any precedent for the steps being taken. (California has imposed some limits on grass and water consumption, and Arizona has paid farmers to fallow fields.)
SNWA was formed in 1992 to address water issues on a regional basis. Its restriction on nonfunctional grass requires removal by the end of 2026. It is estimated to save 9.6 billion gallons of water annually.
Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. in terms of water capacity, is a 247-square-mile basin where the Colorado River meets the Hoover Dam. Engineered 85 years ago to capture trillions of gallons of river water, Lake Mead is considered a lifeline for 25 million people and millions of acres of farmland in California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. It is 24 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip.