Las Vegas Sun

August 25, 2016

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Want your grass back? Plant it, water authority says

Image

Leila Navidi

In this 2008 file photo, Heber Jovany Peralta, left, and Cesar Peralta of Acacia Landscape haul gravel into a Las Vegas back yard where they’d removed all the grass.

Map of Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

601 Nevada Way, Boulder City

The Southern Nevada Water Authority approved a measure Thursday that some say could undermine years of water conservation efforts.

In a 6-1 vote, the Water Authority agreed to allow homeowners and businesses to convert desert landscaping back to turf if a property owner is willing to reimburse the agency for rebates paid to induce the change to so-called xeriscape, effectively reversing a key agency water-saving program.

The Water Authority requested the policy change after a property owner — one of the 5,500 to receive turf-conversion rebates since the program began in 2004 — sought to reinstall turf. Staff did not identify the property owner, and the Sun’s request for more information had not been answered by this afternoon.

Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak cast the lone no vote against the policy, which requires the property owner to pay back the rebate plus interest and an administrative fee.

After the meeting, Sisolak said allowing turf to be replanted sends a mixed message. After years of telling Nevadans they need to conserve, “now we’re sending a message that maybe the drought’s over,” he said.

“We’re encouraging conservation on one hand. Then when people conserve, their water rates keep going up,” he said. “Now we have this: ‘Conserve but put your grass back in if you want.’ It’s all confusing to the public.”

County Commissioner Tom Collins, who also serves on the Water Authority board, dismissed Sisolak’s assessment: “This is America. People have property rights.”

In 2004, the Water Authority embarked on the rebate program, which has saved billions of gallons of water. Property owners are paid a bounty for every square foot of turf converted to desert landscape. The current rebate is $1.50 per square foot. The current policy says conversions have to be kept “in perpetuity.”

Initially funded by the millions collected each year in connection fees, in 2009 the agency started using the proceeds from bond sales to fund the rebate program.

Water Authority Board member and Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin also disagreed with critics of the vote. He said the board wasn’t sending any symbolic conservation message with its decision to allow property owners to reinstall turf.

“It would be symbolic if we got rid of the entire rebate program,” he said. “That’s not what we’re doing here.”

The Water Authority website states that residences use about 45 percent of all the water in Southern Nevada, and 47 percent of that water goes toward outdoor uses, mostly to keep lawns green.

Scot Rutledge, director of the Nevada Conservation League, said he was shocked by the board’s decision, particularly because it comes as the agency prepares to make a case for a pipeline to send water from Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas.

“It goes against every common-sense water conservation policy enacted,” he said. “They just took five steps backward, while they prepare to go before the state engineer for (groundwater permits). It sends a really bad signal.”

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