Las Vegas seeks to ban... grass?

(AP Photo/John Locher)

Having solved all other problems in Nevada, Las Vegas is turning its attention to a pressing issue that is no doubt on everyone’s minds. There’s just too much grass being grown in Sin City. With that in mind, the municipal government is looking at implementing a ban on “grass that nobody walks on.” While this may sound like an odd topic at first glance, it’s actually a rather important subject for them to address and some other southwestern and west coast states might want to pay attention to what they’re doing. (Associated Press)

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 (21 square kilometers) 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.

This isn’t a crazy idea. In fact, it’s probably long overdue. Planting and maintaining ornamental grass in an area like that sucks up a lot of water. And water is a resource that is in increasingly short supply in that region.

The reason for that should be obvious. Las Vegas was built in the middle of a desert. Grass was never supposed to grow there in any noticeable amount. It’s an artificial construct brought in by human beings. And if we’re being honest, Vegas was never particularly habitable for very many human beings either, at least until our technology made the importation of and access to alternate water reserves practical. But the more the city grows, the more water they suck up.

Unfortunately, most of Vegas’ water comes from the Colorado River. So many locations are sucking that river dry at this point that it may simply disappear in its southern reaches. By eliminating most of the ornamental grass, city officials think they can cut the current water consumption levels by as much as 15%, buying themselves quite a bit more time.

As I suggested above, this is something that California should be watching closely. Most of southern California imposed a temporary ban on watering lawns during the drought they experienced a few years ago, but it was eventually lifted. Whenever an event like that takes place, people begin setting their hair on fire and talking about climate change. But the reality is that most of southern California (when you get away from the mountains) is also a desert. The only way it remains survivable is through massive technological intervention.

There are alternatives in landscaping that can make things more manageable, similar to what Las Vegas is pushing for. If you remove all of the plants that don’t grow there naturally (e.g. grass) and replace them with plants that evolved to live in a desert (e.g. cacti), you can have a more natural landscape, and the maintenance required to keep it in shape is a lot less as well. The other option, if you don’t like the idea of having a cactus in your yard is to not live in a desert.