How much water is your ‘curb appeal grass’ wasting?

Local News

Sprinklers water grass near a street corner Friday, April 9, 2021, in the Summerlin neighborhood of northwest 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. Las Vegas area water officials are asking the state Legislature to pass a law banning “non-functional turf.” (AP Photo/Ken Ritter)

Utah (ABC4) – Utah is experiencing extreme drought conditions and concerns this year. Amid these concerns, efforts are being taken to conserve water, including efforts to conserve water on Utah’s ornamental or nonfunctional grass space. 

Kim Wells, Public Information Officer for the Utah Division of Water Resources tells ABC4 Utah’s thirsty greenery such as grass can take up and waste a lot of the state’s water resources. 

According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, as of April 14, nearly 100% of the state is in a drought and over 90% is in extreme drought, with 76% of the west is in a drought.

In the Las Vegas area, water officials have spent two decades trying to get people to replace thirsty greenery with desert plants. Now, they’re asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw roughly 40% of the grass that’s left.

They also want to get rid of “nonfunctional turf” in the metro area.  “Nonfunctional turf” is grass that no one ever walks on or otherwise uses in street medians, housing developments, and office parks.

“The term ‘ornamental’ is ‘curb appeal grass’ – essentially grass between roads and sidewalks (typically called parkstrips), in medians and traffic circles, and the grass used as decoration outside of businesses and housing developments. It’s not grass that serves an active purpose like backyards, parks and other recreational facilities,” Wells adds. 

Wells says in Utah, the term “ornamental grass” is turf that is used in areas that are primarily decorative. “Essentially grass/lawn that nobody walks or recreates on except for the person who mows it,” Wells shares. 

She says ornamental grass can also describe ornamental plants, like pampas grass. 

“By eliminating or replacing grass, we enable that water to be used in other ways, like drinking water or to create green spaces in future developments. By not using water on thirsty turf and being more strategic with our use of grass, our reservoirs will be more full and available for a later date.” 

Utah is known for its varying terrain, climate, elevation, and water needs from one end to the state to the other. 

According to Wells, common grass used in Utah include:

  • Tall Fescue and Kentucky Blue are very common
  • Bermuda grass, grass that is much more drought-tolerant, but goes dormant (brown) in extreme dry heat; recovers quickly when temperatures cool. Is used in St. George.

How much of the state’s water is used to water this for show grass? Wells says its “hard to estimate” because not all turf areas are ornamental. 

“A front yard may be ornamental, but the backyard is used for play.”  She says yards are often smaller in urbanized areas but are watered more. “Suburban yards are the most thirsty – they are larger and watered a lot to maintain a lush appearance. Rural yards are larger, but used more and not watered for best appearance,” Wells adds. 

People tend to water too much, too often, at the wrong times, and the wrong way. Wells says this is what wastes water. “Not only does this waste a valuable and increasingly scarce resource, but it can also make your lawn look worse.” 

She says spring and fall are the best times to save water because the weather fluctuates more than it does in the heat of the summer.

In an effort to conserve water while watering your lawn, Wells says there are tools that recommend watering based on weather patterns and evapotranspiration rates. She says if Utahns follow and use the tools available “we estimate that Utah could save more than 20 billion gallons of water every summer if everyone were to water according to the guide.

Wait to water your lawn until the weather is is in the mid-70 for consecutive days. “Eliminating one watering saves 3,000 gallons for the average quarter-acre Utah yard with .17 acres of green space,” Wells shares with ABC4. 

So what is the long-term solution for eliminating grass watering? Wells says in Utah, we don’t want to ban turf grass but encourage people to consider replacing non-functional grass with lower water-use options like waterwise plants and hardscapes.  

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