In all my many years of landscaping and lawn maintenance, I had never heard the term “nonfunctional grass” until yesterday. That’s the term being used to describe certain turfgrass areas, actually 31 percent of the turf in the Las Vegas area, which can no longer be irrigated, starting 6 years from now in 2027. It’s part of an effort to conserve water from the Colorado River. The states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, seven states in all, rely on the Colorado River, which is facing additional challenges posed by a drier future, due to climate change.
This month, Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States by volume, has declined to its lowest level since the reservoir was filled, following construction of the Hoover Dam that began 90 years ago, and being put into service in 1936. Over one hundred lives were lost among the thousands of workers who completed the dam’s construction, 2 years ahead of schedule. The concrete arch, hydroelectric dam, was originally known as the Boulder Dam, being renamed the Hoover Dam in 1947.
While we have seen temporary lawn watering restrictions and outright bans during severe droughts, this is the first state in the United States to permanently ban the irrigation of certain types of grass areas. So then, just what is considered “nonfunctional grass” in Nevada? It applies to turfgrass street medians, office parks and entrances to housing developments, while it excludes golf courses, parks and single-family homes. Officials predict this new ban will help conserve 10 percent of its Colorado River water supply.
The installation of front lawns in new subdivisions around Las Vegas has been banned for many years, and additionally, perks have been made available to those who are willing to remove turfgrass areas to install drought tolerant landscaping, or what is known as xeriscaping. The ban doesn’t take effect until 2027, and will only apply to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) jurisdiction, which sources 90 percent of its water supply from the Colorado River. The SNWA has posted this 30 second YouTube video, “Water Smart in Summer.”
Xeriscaping can be referred to as a garden design with very low water requirements, involving the use of drought tolerant plants such as cacti, or as simple as using ornamental gravel, or synthetic turf, in place of a traditional home lawn. With water resources becoming more precious in the 21st Century, gardeners are likely to take a much closer look at some level of xeriscaping in any future garden plans. The advantages of xeriscaping include:
Watering outdoor plants and lawns is different in our western Pennsylvania region, due to a different climate and heavier, water retaining clay soils. Watering in early in the morning is best. Early evening watering is also alright, however, if lawns and plant foliage remain wet overnight, it can encourage fungus problems. I’ll stick with early mornings. Our general rule of thumb of when to water here, is when rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Watering should be done slowly and thoroughly, allowing time for water to soak into the ground. More: How to water lawns and outdoor plants.