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Sure thing in Vegas! Cash in your chips - fold your lawn

  • Subject: [cg] Sure thing in Vegas! Cash in your chips - fold your lawn
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Mon, 31 Jan 2005 10:39:48 -0800 (PST)

Las Vegas (Nevada) Review-Journal

SMART LAWNS: Hold Your Water
Southern Nevada Water Authority encourages residents
to conserve


Southern Nevadans have ripped out almost 51 million
square feet of grass in the five years that the
Southern Nevada Water Authority has been paying people
to switch their yard landscaping away from
water-guzzling turf.

If all the grass removed in Southern Nevada through
this rebate program were laid end to end as strips of
sod -- which are typically 18 inches wide -- that
would be enough to cover one-fourth of the world's
circumference, brags Doug Bennett, the water
authority's conservation manager. Its rebate program
pays for a portion of the cost of retrofitting a
landscape to remove grass and consume less water.

Grass-free landscaping is "a good fit for a lot of
different lifestyles," according to Bennett. A study
of parties who have participated in the program
reveals many reasons for converting: lower water
bills, less time needed to maintain the landscape,
more greenery year-round. Also, more birds and
butterflies visit a yard that is strategically
landscaped with desert-friendly plants.

"We were just at a woman's home. She's a senior," is
how Bennett begins the story of one household's
conversion. "She and her husband decided to make a
change because they were having difficulty keeping up
with a lawn," in terms of fertilizing and mowing.

According to the authority's five-year study of its
conversion rebate program, the average homeowner who
participated eliminated 1,500 square feet of grass
from his or her yard, which resulted in an average
decrease of $165 per year to the water bill.

"It's like when you buy a car, the mileage will vary,"
Bennett points out. Likewise, converting an arbitrary
amount of square footage from grass to other plantings
or surfaces will save different amounts of water,
depending on the choice of landscape.

"Keep in mind that in the summer months, that tends to
be when water is most expensive. When usage is
heaviest, your bill is progressively higher," he adds.

The average square foot of turf in the Las Vegas
Valley drinks 73 gallons water a year. After
conversion from grass, the average square foot of
landscaping takes less than 18 gallons of water a
year, Bennett says statistics show.

But grass-free landscaping does not necessarily mean a
desert look to a yard. Traditional English garden or
Japanese garden are landscaping effects that can be
created with Xeriscaping. The term covers selection of
"woody, deeper-rooted plants" as well as use of
watering systems that are highly targeted at specific
root zones. according to Bennett.

Turf requires a lot of water because of its shallow
root system. Deeper-rooted plants are better at
seeking out residual water in the ground.

The authority gives rebates to any local party who
pays a water bill -- not just homeowners, but also to
golf courses, commercial parks or community

In general a homeowner must remove at least 400 square
feet of grass to be eligible for a rebate, assuming he
or she follows the district's criteria for the new
watering system. But people who have less turf may
still be eligible, if they agree to remove all of
their turf. "The smallest one we did was 37 square
feet," Bennett recalls.

The average homeowner receives a rebate of about $1
for every square foot of turf removed, up to 50,000
square feet. A typical conversion of 1,500 square feet
could earn the homeowner a $1,500 rebate. It also cuts
landscape consumption of water by 82,500 gallons a

The rebate program is successful, according to the
conservation manager. In 2004 rebates went to about
10,000 residential property owners and about 1,000
owners of non-residential property. In five years,
people who converted have saved 2.8 billion gallons of
water, the study estimates. That's enough water to
fill 31,595.2 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The average rebate participant reported a time savings
of 30 percent, when comparing maintenance for the old
versus new landscapes, Bennett added.

The rebate program is helping spread popularity of the
new, water-efficient approach to landscaping, he
believes. "Now there's a lot of peer inflence. When
somebody does a nice project, the neighbors (notice).
It's a way of revitalizing, or decorating your yard."

Marilyn Zimerman and her husband felt exactly that way
when they converted their yard two ago. Six months
before, they had moved into a home that was about 5
years old. "Maybe 50 percent of the yard was turf,"
she recalls.

They converted it, in part, to cut their water bill
and discontinue the gardening service that mowed their
lawn. The yards now has zero turf.

She was surprised at the aesthetic improvement. "We
... have some greenery all year long. (Before) things
... were dying all the time."

She also believes the yard's uniqueness sets it apart
from other houses on the street. "When you drive into
a gated community, unless you're looking at totally
custom homes, what you've got is, everything looks the

The Zimmermans, who moved from Pennsylvania to Las
Vegas eight years ago, used conventional grass
landscaping in their first home here. When they wanted
to move, they made a point to steer away from one
prestigious gated community that required homeowners
to have turf in the front yard.

In all, the couple removed 1,100 square feet of turf
when they converted. Their water bill dropped by half,
Marilyn Zimmerman estimates.

Yvonne Gordon, who lives with her husband in the
McDonald Ranch portion of Henderson, recently
converted a large yard through the rebate program. The
home they bought was included in a Street of Dreams
home exibition several years ago. The couple removed
almost 3,000 square feet of turf from their property.

That was in spring. The yard already feels lush
although it was installed less than a year ago,
maintains Gordon. The prior landscape was mostly lawn
and did little to accentuate the home's modern
architecture. "The starkness of the desert landscape
shows off the house a lot more," she says.

She describes their converted yard as more
interesting, visually. Many of the plants have
blossoms, and lengthy blooming periods.

"There's always something happening," she notes, as
one species finishes blooming while another one
starts. "Because you're not fighting what (plants)
want to live here, it's very rewarding."

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is trying to
remove psychological barriers to Xeriscaping. Its Web
site offers five basic templates for yard designs, at
http://www.snwa.com/html/ws_landscape_designs.html. To
receive the templates by mail, phone the authority at

The authority also has encouraged development of
demonstration gardens throughout the valley so
homeowners can easily view samples of water-smart

The American Community Gardening Association listserve is only one of ACGA's services to community gardeners. To learn more about the ACGA and to find out how to join, please go to http://www.communitygarden.org

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