Perspectives

Future or Fiction: Goodbye to Grass? 

Anjali Bean, CAS-SIS/BA ’10, healthy rivers senior policy analyst, Western Resource Advocates, examines the likelihood of expansion for nonfunctional turf bans aimed at conserving water 

Illustrated image of Anjali Bean

Q. Last summer, Nevada banned nonfunctional turf in the Las Vegas area to combat its water shortage. Taking effect in 2027 and taking aim at low-use areas like medians and office parks, the bill will outlaw nearly a third of the city’s existing grass. Will it catch on elsewhere and will eliminating gratuitous grass in drought-prone cities meaningfully impact water conservation?

A. Nevada’s new law remains the only one of its kind. Far more common are turf buyback programs—like those passed this year in Utah and Colorado—that give property owners a rebate or other financial incentive to replace turf grass with native plants, grasses, or other drought-tolerant landscaping. Many cities and water authorities also have robust rebate programs for water-efficient appliances and irrigation.

It’s easy for people and legislators to support voluntary initiatives, and I expect they will grow. Bans will have a much harder time—but the potential impact is huge. The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that the turf restriction bill will save more than 9 billion gallons of water a year—about 10 percent of the state’s Colorado River allotment.  

As climate change continues to reduce the available water supply in the west, we will all be forced to make hard choices about how water is used. Conservation measures like banning nonfunctional turf are low-hanging fruit when compared to drying out agricultural lands or placing a growth moratorium on cities. While it may seem extreme, it’s certainly the less dire option.