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Nevada Bans 'Non-Functional Grass' Due To Drought
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Nevada Bans 'Non-Functional Grass' Due To Drought

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Useless grass is quickly becoming unforgivable in Sin City.

In an effort to conserve water amid a drought that is drying up the region's primary water source, the Colorado River, a new Nevada law will outlaw approximately 31% of the grass in the Las Vegas area.

Other cities and states in the United States have enacted temporary bans on watered lawns, but legislation signed Friday by Gov. Steve Sisolak makes Nevada the first in the country to enact a permanent ban on certain types of grass.

Last week, Sisolak stated that anyone flying into Las Vegas and seeing the “bathtub rings” that delineate how high Lake Mead’s water levels used to be can see the need for conservation.

“It is incumbent upon us to educate the next generation about conservation and natural resources, particularly water,” he said.

The ban is aimed at what the Southern Nevada Water Authority refers to as "non-functional turf," which includes grass that is rarely used in office parks, street medians, and at housing development entrances, but excludes single-family homes, parks, and golf courses.

The bill's sponsor, Nevada Assemblyman Howard Watts III, said he hopes other western states will consider similar action in the run-up to the 2026 renegotiation of the Colorado River's Drought Contingency Plan, and he praised Sisolak for taking concrete conservation action after Utah Gov. Spencer Cox asked people to pray for rain last week.

“There is broad acceptance in southern Nevada that if we can take some grass out to preserve the water supply for our communities, then that’s something we need to do,” he said, adding that “this sends a clear message about what other states need to look at in order to preserve water.”

The measure will necessitate the removal of approximately 6 square miles (16 square kilometers) of grass in the metro Las Vegas area, which officials estimate will save the region 10% of its total available Colorado River water supply and approximately 11 gallons (41 liters) per person per day in a region with a population of approximately 2.3 million.

“Replacing non-functional turf from Southern Nevada will allow for more sustainable and efficient resource use, build resilience to climate change, and help ensure the community’s current and future water needs are met,” said Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger.

The ban was passed by state lawmakers with bipartisan support and backing from organizations such as the Great Basin Water Network conservation group and the Southern Nevada Homebuilders’ Association, which wants to free up water to allow for projected growth and future construction.

When the ban goes into effect in 2027, it will only apply to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's jurisdiction, which includes Las Vegas and the surrounding areas and relies on the Colorado River for 90% of its water supply.

As the region grew, the agency prohibited developers from planting grass front lawns in new subdivisions and spent years providing some of the region's most generous rebates to owners of older properties — up to $3 per square foot (0.1 square meters) — to tear out grass and replace it with drought-tolerant landscaping.

Water officials have stated that dwindling demand for the rebates has necessitated more drastic measures, and the legislation also calls for the formation of an advisory committee to carve out exceptions to the ban.

Other cities and states have enacted temporary grass bans during short-term droughts, but Nevada is the first state to enact a regional ban on certain grass uses.

The ban comes as the seven states that rely on the Colorado River for water – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – prepare for a drier future.

The two reservoirs where Colorado River water is stored, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are expected to shrink this year to levels that would trigger the region's first official shortage declaration and reduce the amount allocated to Nevada and Arizona.

Water officials in both states have stated that, despite the cuts, there will be enough water to meet projected population growth, but they are working to limit certain types of consumption.

Farmers in Pinal County, south of Phoenix, have been forced to stop irrigating their fields as a result of the cuts, while Nevada stands to lose about 4% of its allocation, despite the fact that the state has historically not used its entire share.

Sam Metz is a corps member with the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover under-reported issues.

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