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Cash for grass: Las Vegas residents get rebates for tossing their turf

July 20th, 2009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Las Vegas is hot and dry, as it should be, since it’s in the desert. Years of droughts in southern Nevada have emphasized the point.

The area usually only gets about 4″ of rain a year, anyway.

Despite that, the allure of Vegas has drawn an estimated 400,000 new residents since 2002. And then all those thousands of newcomers planted pretty lawns and lush landscaping.

Green lawns don’t belong in the desert. Keeping them green means a constant drain on southern Nevada’s precious and limited amount of water.

Today, even though the recession has halted Las Vegas’ population growth, the city still has more than 1.8 million residents, and 40 million visitors a year.

The source of all water in southern Nevada is Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado River. The lake’s water level has dropped dramatically in the last decade. In 2008, one report said, the water level of the 250-square-mile lake was 102 feet below its old waterline.

Fear that a large, heavily populated region of the United States could be without adequate water in the not-too-distant future has prompted swift and creative responses from the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Ten years ago, they started the Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program, providing cash back to home and business owners who yank out their turf and replace it with native plants and water-saving landscaping.

Since it started , the authority says 130 million square feet of grass has been removed, and billions of gallons of water saved. An estimated $138 million in turf rebates have been paid out. One report said that between 2002 and 2007, even as Las Vegas’ population boomed, water use dropped by 15 billion gallons – an 18 percent decrease.

In that region, turning landscapes into low-water-use xeriscapes can save about 75 percent on the annual water bill, another report said.

The water authority pays $1.50 for every square foot of grass removed and replaced with native landscaping — up to the first 5,000 square feet. Hit the 5,000-square-foot mark and they’ll still keep paying, $1 a square foot up to a maximum of $300,000 a year.

Other cities in the dry southwest have implemented similar programs. Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power started a program last month to pay single-family homeowners $1 for every square foot of grass they pull up and replace with drought-tolerant plants and permeable ground cover. The department will pay up to $2,000.

Twenty-nine cities within California’s East Bay Municipal Utility District (including Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland) can get 50 cents for every square foot of grass they replace, up to $1,000 to single-family residences.

Cities in Arizona, Mesa and Chandler, for example, also give cash back to those who replace grass with low-water plants.

Even though cash for grass programs are popping up in drought-ridden states across the country, they have a long way to go to match Las Vegas.

In addition to the grass payback, Southern Nevada’s water authority instituted a water-saving car wash program, providing coupons to car washes that either recycle their own water or send it to a treatment facility for recycling. Residents can get money back for buying a swimming pool cover (without it, the authority says, 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water can evaporate from a pool). There are other programs, as well.

Other useful information from the water authority includes a step-by-step how-to video to go from grass to low-water landscaping.  There is a chart to show how much water can be saved by making the change, and a before-and-after photo gallery of beautiful landscape conversions.

Photos from Southern Nevada Water Authority, before and after photo gallery

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media


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