I have to admit, I hope this is a case where “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”
The Southern Nevada Water Authority (which serves an area that includes the city of Las Vegas) is offering incentives to individuals to remove their “water-thirsty lawns” and replace them with a “lush yet water-efficient” desert landscape. Participants in the program will be paid $1.50/square foot for the first 5,000 square feet of lawn that are removed, and an additional $1.00/square foot for anything over 5,000 square feet. They mean business! It has lead to removal of over 130 million square feet (3,000 acres) of lawn according to their website.
Here is an example of a yard that has been renovated as part of the program:
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the water situation throughout most of the Southwest is very dire and that removal of turfgrass will have a significant impact on water use. Having lived in the high desert of southern Idaho for most of my early years I know all too well how much water lawns require. I definitely think that a landscape appropriate to the desert climate is a good move. I am happy to see that they are encouraging plants in the landscape and not advocating for the replacement of natural turf with synthetic lawns. Properly designed, these new landscapes should not have the same heat-island effect that would have happened if synthetic turfgrass had been installed, which should keep the additional pressure on air conditioning systems to a minimum.
Here in Florida, we advocate for the responsible use of lawns in the landscape. Turfgrass plays an important role in the landscape providing space for recreation, stabilizing soil against erostion, and acting as a filter to remove contaminants from water infiltrating the soil. The Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) program is designed to aid people in designing/installing landscapes that feature plants that perform well in Florida’s climate with minimal inputs. The FFL program does not advocate for complete removal of turfgrass areas. Instead, the program is based on the principles of “right plant, right place.” Sounds sort of like the program in Nevada minus the financial incentive.