A desert city built on a reputation for excess and indulgence wants to become a model for restraint and conservation with a first-in-the-nation policy banning grass that nobody walks on. Las Vegas-area water officials have spent two decades trying to get people to replace thirsty greenery with desert plants, and now they're asking the Nevada Legislature to outlaw roughly 40% of the turf that's left. The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates there are almost 8 square miles of "nonfunctional turf" in the metro area—grass that no one ever walks on or otherwise uses in street medians, housing developments, and office parks, reports the AP. They say this ornamental grass requires four times as much water as drought-tolerant landscaping like cactus and other succulents.
By ripping it out, they estimate the region can reduce annual water consumption by roughly 15% and save about 14 gallons per person per day. California imposed a temporary ban on watering ornamental grass during last decade's drought, but no state or major city has tried to phase out certain categories of grass permanently. The proposal is part of a turf war waged since at least 2003, when the water authority banned developers from planting green front yards in new subdivisions. Last year was among the driest in the region's history, when Las Vegas went a record 240 days without measurable rainfall. And the future flow of the Colorado River, which accounts for 90% of southern Nevada's water, is in question. Justin Jones, a Clark County commissioner who serves on the water authority's board, says that "to be clear, we are not coming after your average homeowner’s backyard." But grass in the middle of a parkway, where no one walks: "That's dumb."
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