Las Vegas declares turf war on lawns as drought worsens

LAS VEGAS, June 22 (Reuters) - Las Vegas is ripping up millions of square feet of grass - including greenery along the iconic strip - as the city struggles with a decades-long drought made worse by climate change.

Lawmakers last year outlawed turf that is only decorative, and property owners across the city are replacing grass with a mix of artificial turf and desert-friendly plants.

The law does not apply to golf courses or private houses, but new homes are not allowed to use real grass.

“The reality is that grass uses the equivalent of 73 gallons of water a year per square foot. That's enough water to put where we are completely underwater by 10 feet," said Bronson Mack from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is responsible for water management in Las Vegas.

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Nevada gets much of its water from nearby Lake Mead, which also supplies California, Arizona and Mexico. But levels have dropped to an all-time low due to a sustained drought exacerbated by climate change.

The sun sets on the shrinking Lake Mead, where water levels have declined dramatically to lows not seen since the reservoir was filled after the construction of Hoover Dam, as climate change and growing demand for its water shrink the Colorado River and create challenges, in Boulder City, Nevada, U.S., April 16, 2022. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

The Southern Nevada Water Authority sends patrols out each day to film videos of homes wasting water. Homeowners receive a warning or fines if they are repeat offenders.

“Over the next three years here in Las Vegas, they're going to convert about 180 million square feet of natural grass to azurescape. And much of that is going to be artificial turf,” said George Neagle from SynLawn, one of the largest U.S. manufacturers of artificial landscapes.

Some homeowners are replacing their lawns voluntarily.

“It doesn't look like it's artificial grass to me. I feel like it's real. ... It feels good,” homeowner Linda Laird said.

Laird has lived in the city since 1985 and says she’s watched with horror as water levels in Lake Mead have plunged.

“I feel like if I can do my small little part to helping conserve some of our water here in Las Vegas, that I'm doing a small part to help everyone else,” she said.

Reporting by Phil Lavelle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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