Some 30 water supply agencies in Southern California, Phoenix and Salt Lake City agree to rip up ornament grass by 30 percent in a bid to help recycle water and change people's water spending habits.

The commitments could spur agencies to offer payment for property owners to tear out grass and replace it with drought-tolerant desert landscaping.
The commitments could spur agencies to offer payment for property owners to tear out grass and replace it with drought-tolerant desert landscaping. (AP Archive)

A group of 30 agencies that supply water to homes and businesses throughout the western United States has pledged to rip up lots of decorative grass to help keep water in the over-tapped Colorado River. 

The agreement signed on Tuesday by water agencies in Southern California, Phoenix and Salt Lake City and elsewhere illustrates an accelerating shift in the American West away from well-manicured grass that has long been a totem of suburban life, having taken root alongside streets, around fountains and between office park walkways.

The grass-removal pledge targets turf that people don’t work on, like in front of strip malls, in street medians or at the entrance to neighborhoods. It doesn’t mean cities plan to rip up grass at golf courses, parks or in backyards, though some may pay homeowners to voluntarily replace their lawns with more drought-resistance landscaping.

Beyond reducing ornamental grass by 30 percent, the agencies say they’ll boost water efficiency, add more water recycling and consider actions like changing how people pay for water to encourage savings.

"Recognising that a clean, reliable water supply is critical to our communities, we can and must do more to reduce water consumption and increase reuse and recycling within our service areas," read the memo. 

The agreement did not include details about the amount of water the agencies were collectively committing to saving, but cities account for about one-fifth of Colorado River water use. The rest goes to agriculture.

"Cities — the 20 percent — can't solve the math problem. But we can certainly contribute to solving the problem," said John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority's General Manager.

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Replacing 7M square metres

The commitments, light on details, could spur agencies to offer payment for property owners to tear out grass and replace it with drought-tolerant desert landscaping. 

The commitment to tear out 30 percent marks the first time water agencies throughout the region have collectively committed to a numerical benchmark targeting one specific kind of water use. 

It comes as the states scramble to reduce their consumption to meet demands from federal officials who say cuts are needed to maintain river levels and protect public health, food systems and hydropower.

The letter adds additional signatories to an earlier agreement five large water districts reached in August. Water agencies in Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Denver are among those who signed.

Denver Water spokesperson Todd Hartman said the city hoped to replace roughly 75 million square feet of non-functional turf but didn’t share how much water that would conserve. He said the agency hopes to roll out programs by 2024.

No matter the savings, the new commitments will amount to far less conservation than is needed to keep water flowing through the Colorado River and prevent its largest reservoirs from shrinking to dangerously low levels. 

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Source: AP