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Vegas water agency asks lawmakers to ban ornamental grass

April 6, 2021 GMT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas water officials want state lawmakers to require the removal of thirsty grass landscaping that isn’t used for recreation.

Southern Nevada Water Authority lobbyist Andy Belanger told lawmakers Monday that climate change and growth in the Las Vegas area would require communities to take more significant measures to conserve water. The agency estimates that more than 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) of “nonfunctional turf” — grass not used for recreational activities like golf, youth sports or dog-walking — is spread throughout the region.

It says the ornamental grass in places like street medians and office parks uses roughly 55 billion gallons (210 billion liters) of water per year, which is about 15% of the region’s total nonrecycled consumption.

“No one plays on this grass. No one walks on this grass — except the landscaper who sometimes has to carry equipment across lanes of traffic to mow it. It is purely for show, and it is a luxury our community can no longer afford,” Belanger told members of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants the Legislature to mandate getting rid of unused turf by the end of 2026 and create an advisory committee to guide the effort.

The idea gained immediate backing from one environmental advocacy group.

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The Center for Biological Diversity pointed to drought in Southwest states that rely on the Colorado River and called the proposal the kind of bold thinking needed to avoid disaster.

The center’s state director, Patrick Donnelly, said getting rid of nonfunctional turf would send a strong message that Nevada is committed to water conservation and would set an example for other states to follow.

He says a ban on ornamental grass would benefit the environment, endangered species and public health.

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Metz is a corps member for 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 report on undercovered issues.