This story is part of our Be Water Wise series. Each week we will be educating Utahns on water usage and conservation. Special thanks to The Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and Cynthia Bee for helping coordinate information. 

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – “Grass doesn’t belong everywhere,” according to Utah Water Savers. Utah is getting a crash course in water-saving lawn removal with an ad campaign sponsored by the state’s major water districts and the Utah Division of Water Resources.

Whether it’s a windshield covered in sod on a UTA bus, a wife weed-eating her husband’s back, or a lawn-based wardrobe rejected by Governor Cox, the ads are hitting a nerve. Utahns have strong opinions on water conservation when it comes to landscaping. Ask 10 different residents about what makes great water-wise landscaping, and you will probably get 15 different answers.

The districts are trying to take some of the mystery away from it all and even with their light-hearted tone the message of the Water Savers ad campaign is clear – there is a better way and there is help to discover it.

With the help of major state water conservation partners, the site is now the go-to for statewide fixture rebates and landscape incentives for most of Utah. With Utah Legislative incentives, more funds have been made available for residents.

The overarching theme of the campaign, and the simple message every water conservation entity in Utah wants to shout from the top of Mount Timpanogos, is that it’s not an all-or-nothing concept. They don’t want Utahns to rip out all of their lawn and replace them with rocks and cacti, they want residents to identify “non-functional turf.”

“We’re not asking the public to choose between all-lawn or all-rock landscapes,” says the ad campaign manager, Zack Seipert, with the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, “rather, we’re asking every water user who manages a landscape to look at areas of the landscape that contain non-functional turf that could be converted to a better, more-efficient, purpose.”

“Non-functional turf” is a term coined by the Southern Nevada Water Authority that refers to areas of the lawn that require water and maintenance resources without producing any recreational value. Examples include park strips, parking lot islands, and narrow, awkward scraps of lawns that are somewhere between difficult and impossible to manage efficiently while providing no useful value.

Utah Water Savers encourages Utahns to use the “Localscapes” method to assist with the planning and implementation of landscape changes. Localscapes is a design style created specifically for our state that embodies best practices for landscapes in our climate and may or may not include an area of lawn as per the choice of the participant.

“Regardless of whether incentive programs apply in an area, Localscaping will still generate the best long-term outcomes for Utahns and help position their landscape for times of drought and stress,“ says Cynthia Bee, one of the creators of the Localscapes method. “It’s really about protecting your landscape investment for the long-term in our increasingly unpredictable climate.”

Getting Started:

  • Any lawn-replacement project, residential, commercial, institutional, or industrial, is potentially eligible for cash-back landscape incentives to help offset the cost of changing over that portion of the landscape through Utah Water Savers.
  • Start by creating an account on the Utah Water Savers website. The website will automatically direct you to the programs and resources available in your area and outline the requirements for participating.
  • Participants must apply and be accepted to participate in the programs before beginning work. Incentives cannot be applied retroactively. They’re provided as a cash-back rebate once the project is completed.
  • Once you’ve created your account, you’ll be prompted for information about your proposed project and an estimated incentive will be generated so participants will know what they can receive prior to committing to a project.

Utah Water Savers recognizes that not everyone has the budget or bandwidth to make all the changes at once, so the programs are set up to provide incentives for small projects too. The minimum project size is 200 square feet.

With that in mind, Water Savers encourages those new to water-efficient landscaping to start small.

“Small projects are a great way to practice new skills and techniques on a low-risk basis,” Bee tells residents. “We jokingly refer to park strip flips as ‘the gateway drug to a water-efficient landscape’ because we’ve seen so many people start with a park strip, succeed beautifully, then implement the same techniques in other parts of their landscape.”

The program sponsors are actively working to get cities across the state to opt in to the landscape incentive programs. However, not all programs are yet offered in all areas. There are processes and requirements of cities for participation as well.

The most current list of participating cities can be found on the Division of Water Resources website. If your city is not listed, residents are encouraged to talk to their local administrators and see if the process has started and if not encourage them to opt in.

No Better Time To Start:

  • If you live in a city that is currently qualified to participate in the landscape incentive programs and you’re ready to commit to a project, Utah Water Savers program managers encourage you not to wait. Funding is currently available, but as more cities join the movement, there will be more competition for those funds in the future.
  • The popularity of the Landscape Incentive Program causes bottlenecks at certain times of the year, especially in early to late spring, which can result in delays and frustrations for potential participants. The spring rush can also cause temporary program closures as the teams work to keep up with demand.
  • All projects have a one-year period to complete. Applying for the programs now ensures you’ll be approved and ready to go on your schedule, even if you’ll wait until next spring to begin the work.
  • Projects can be planned and implemented by homeowners or designed and/or installed by professionals, though the incentive amount does not change based on how the project is implemented.
  • Projects will be inspected at completion to ensure they are correctly installed and meet all program requirements. Once the project passes the final inspection, the cash-back landscape incentive will be issued based on the square footage converted.

Remember, there are so many avenues for water conservation in the state. Starting at home is a great way to go. Visit water conservancy district websites as well as local learning gardens. Attend Localscapes classes and ask questions. Landscaping isn’t intuitive for many people, and state agencies realize this.

“No one really teaches you how to landscape. Growing up, we learn two skills– weeding and mowing. Most people prefer what seems to be the easier of those two options, primarily because they don’t know what other choices they may have,” said Bee. “The Localscapes classes are geared to homeowners and encompass the full slate of landscape options so individuals can pick and choose what works best for their family’s needs, while also achieving efficiency with both water and maintenance.”