Las Vegas has struggled for years with water shortages, a struggle that is likely to intensify with the climate crisis in the years to come. Now the city is taking an aggressive step in response: Under a new state law, it’s banning all lawns and ordering their removal.
The entrance to the southwestern United States faces water conservation challenges. The spectacular growth of the region over the last few decades, accompanied by climate change-induced droughts, has caused serious long-term concerns about where cities, states and indigenous tribes will get their water.
Las Vegas, with its strong tourist economy and location in the southern Nevada desert, has particularly acute challenges. The city relies on nearby Lake Mead for the vast majority of its drinking water, and Lake Mead has been shrinking for decades. It is projected to be only a quarter full by 2023 and is already supplying less water to states like Arizona.
The fate of Nevada and its neighboring states is almost certainly tied to the global fight to reverse the most damaging effects of climate change, an international effort in which individual cities like Las Vegas will play only a small part.
But Las Vegas is taking steps to play that role, and that, right now, means that grass that serves only an aesthetic purpose has to go. The state has declared that only grass that serves some functional purpose, such as athletic fields or cemeteries, may remain. Everything else will be destroyed and replaced by 2027 with a landscape more suited to the Mojave desert climate.
Las Vegas residents are no strangers to conservation efforts around water use, particularly as it relates to lawns. The city has been employing measures aimed at reducing water use on lawns for years, setting limits on when people can water and investigating people accused of wasting the resource.
Now, however, he is taking a more drastic step. The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that there are nearly 4,000 acres of grass that need to be removed, which could result in an initial savings of 10 billion gallons of water each year. That would be significant for an area where every drop is carefully counted.
Work has already begun on the effort to identify and remove unnecessary grass, which is being done with the help of an advisory committee made up of community members and will take several years to complete.
When finished, the city will look different, but much more representative of its location in the desert during a decades-long drought and more in tune with the realities of trying to survive in it.
“Lush green landscaping creates a false sense of security,” said Howard Watts, the Democratic state assemblyman who sponsored the law.The New York Times. The new rules “will help people who may be a little bit disconnected… I think it’s going to change that.”