Nevada sets harsh example

Instead of brown lawns in drought-stricken southern Nevada, no new lawns are permitted.
In fact, rebates are provided to home owners who convert their existing water-hungry lawns to water smart landscapes.
There’s no agricultural use of water in the region, explains Doug Bennett, conservation manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, because “even when you put water on it, nothing grows because of the soil.”
Bennett was speaking to the 27 members of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council this week on coordinated water conservation through a teleconference call and video presentation at the UBC Okanagan meeting site.
Colorado River is the source of 90 per cent of the water used in the SNWA, which combines three fast-growing centres, including Las Vegas.
The river is primarily consumed by landscape and for cooling purposes, with indoor use negligible.
The authority was formed in the early 1990s because there was no coordinated conservation plan for the area.
At the time, he said there were often different laws on different sides of the same street, which made it confusing for developers and landscapers as well as residents.
Under the SNWA, they began to change their thinking; to plan together, out into the future, he said.
“Drought changed our views on future water supplies,” he commented.
Because it’s a hot, dry, desert climate, 60 per cent of their water is lost to evaporation.
For a lawn to survive, it requires 73 gallons per square foot, but when landscaping is changed, only 17 gallons are required, a 75 per cent saving, he said.
He notes that the top 10 per cent of water users use as much as the remaining 50 per cent of users, and most of it goes on landscaping, so changing people’s planting habits can have a significant impact on water use.
“Ornamental turf is our enemy,” stated Bennett.
“We permit so little turf that no new golf courses can be built,” he added.
The golf industry responded well, and it has converted non-functional turf to water wise landscaping, he said.
Principal regulatory tools used by the SNWA are a restrictive summer watering schedule, landscape development restrictions, golf course water budgets, water waste penalties and ornamental water feature restrictions, he said.
Investigators go out and ticket water wasters when they find water being permitted to go off the property line by an errant sprinkler or overflow.
“There are few complaints because people don’t want to admit they’re water wasters,” he noted.
Lake Mead, which is the largest man-made body of water in the U.S., at 250 square miles, has been significantly affected by the drought.
The reservoir, formed by the Hoover Dam on the
Colorado River 75 years ago, is located 48 kilometres southeast of Las Vegas and had a 100-foot bathtub ring around it in 2000 because of drought conditions.
Today, that’s grown to 113 feet, and it’s dropping a foot a week now according to Bennett. Docks are sometimes far from the water and beaches consist of what used to be lake bed, broken bottles and all.
“It’s a pretty severe situation,” says Bennett.