Faced with Colorado River shortage, 30 urban suppliers pledge to target decorative grass

Faced with Colorado River shortage, 30 urban suppliers pledge to target decorative grass

As the federal government calls for major reductions in water use to address historic Colorado River shortages, leaders of 30 agencies that supply cities from the Rocky Mountains to Southern California have signed an agreement s committed to boosting conservation, in part by pledging to aim for the elimination of a particularly thirsty mainstay of suburban landscapes: decorative grass.

Water agencies, which supply Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Santa Monica, Burbank, San Diego and other cities, have committed to a non-binding list of actions, including creating a program to remove 30% of “non-functional” grass and replace it with “drought- and climate-resistant landscaping, while preserving vital cityscapes and tree canopies.”

The pledge could bolster efforts across the Southwest to clear grass along roads and medians, and at homeowners associations, apartment complexes, businesses and other properties.

The 30 urban water suppliers also agreed in their memorandum of understanding to expand programs to improve water efficiency indoors and outdoors; increase the recycling and reuse of wastewater where possible; and implementing a variety of conservation “best practices”, such as offering discounts to customers who remove grass, adopting fee structures that incentivize savings, and establishing mandatory watering schedules outside, among others.

While urban water providers have previously worked toward conservation goals, the agreement represents a widespread effort by agencies across the Colorado River Basin to “come together and really double down on those commitments in light of the crisis we are facing”. said Liz Crosson, sustainability manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“This engagement of agencies from multiple states at this time is extremely important,” Crosson said. “We’re all coming to the same conclusion that we really need to address some of the remaining water waste that we see in our landscapes.”

One of the main areas where water managers see great potential for reduction is sprinklers spraying unused strips of grass that line streets and entrances to businesses and public properties, where no one walks except to mow. . By converting these grassy patches that serve no recreational or community purposes to other types of plants that require less water, cities can significantly reduce their water footprint.

New measures have already been passed in some states banning non-functional grass.

Last year, the Nevada Legislature passed a law that, starting in 2027, prohibits the watering of nonfunctional grass.

In May, the California State Water Resources Control Board passed drought rules that also prohibit the watering of non-functioning grass.

And in October, the Metropolitan Water District Board of Directors passed a resolution recommending that cities and water agencies in Southern California pass ordinances permanently banning non-functioning turf on businesses, public properties and owners associations.

These measures do not affect residential lawns, but many cities have also tried to encourage homeowners to remove grass by offering rebates for every square foot converted to water-efficient plants. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Electricity recently increased its rebate for lawn removal from $3 to $5 per square foot.

In the Las Vegas area, more than 5 million square feet of grass have been removed and converted to desert landscaping this year, according to the Southern Nevada Water Agency.

Public officials who set water policy throughout the Colorado River watershed are under increasing pressure to find ways to rapidly reduce water use, both in cities and in agricultural areas.

The river has long been overused and its flows have drastically decreased during a 23-year mega-drought amplified by humanity’s global warming. Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest reservoirs in the country, are now three-quarters empty.

And scientists have warned that climate change is leading to long-term aridification of the region, eroding the amount of water that can be drawn from the river.

Without major reductions in water use, the latest projections show growing risks of reservoirs approaching “dead pool” levels, where water would no longer pass downstream.

Since June, federal officials have urged the seven states that depend on the river to come up with plans to reduce water use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet per year, a decrease of about 15% to 30 %. But negotiations between states and water agencies have not yet resulted in an agreement on how to achieve this level of reduction.

The US Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation last month announced plans to revise their current rules to deal with shortages, saying they may also need to release less water from dams as reservoirs continue to decline.

The signing of the agreement, which was presented to the Bureau of Reclamation, shows that urban water users are ready to move forward with approaches to deal with drought and the effects of climate change said John Entsminger, chief executive of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. .

“Given the lack of progress in negotiations between the seven states, I think this demonstrates that reasonable people of goodwill can continue to make progress on important ways to use less water and adapt to a warmer, drier future,” Entsminger said. “The future is going to require all of us to use less water, and you really see this widespread acceptance of the need to adapt.”

Cities use about 20% of the Colorado River’s water, while agriculture uses about 80%.

The Southern California Water Districts recently submitted a proposal to the federal government to reduce water consumption by approximately 9% over the next four years.

One of these four agencies, the Imperial Irrigation District, uses the largest allocation of water from the Colorado River to supply farms in the Imperial Valley. IID officials have pledged to take the biggest share of California’s cuts, saying they plan to prioritize conservation based on improving water efficiency rather than letting dry and fallow fields.

“As we consider the long-term aridification of the Colorado River basin, the math is simple: water uses exceed water supplies,” Entsminger said. “Every user is going to have to find a way to consume less of it.”

Leaders of seven environmental and conservation groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund, American Rivers and the National Audubon Society, voiced their support for the MoU in a letter to the federal government, calling it “an important step in the good direction”.

“The [Colorado River] Basin no longer has the privilege of methodically preparing for a warmer, drier future,” they wrote in the letter. “The pace and scale of solutions to successfully reduce basin water supply risks must be accelerated…if we have any hope of securing a sustainable Colorado River Basin in the future.”

Madelyn Glickfeld, co-director of UCLA’s water resources group, said the agreement is a good step but cities will need to do more and agricultural water districts should make similar commitments. water saving.

“Agriculture needs to consider growing less water-intensive crops,” Glickfeld said.

As for the ubiquitous lawns in cities and suburbs, she said, “everyone should remove their non-functional turf – and even their functional turf where there are good replacements.”

A big question will be how water agencies will achieve the goal of eliminating 30% of non-functional grass, Glickfeld said.

“They never did that. So let’s see how they do it,” Glickfeld said, “and how fast they can do it.

“The changes we need to make are huge,” she said. “And because we let things get so bad, we don’t have much time.”

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