Authorities in Western U.S. Agree to Rip-Up Grass Lawns for Water Conservation
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Boats are seen at Antelope Point Marina in Lake Powell on the Colorado River in Page, Arizona, during low tide on September 4, 2022. - More than two decades of severe drought have left the Colorado River and its second largest reservoir, Lake Powell, at critical levels as climate change leads to increased heat and reduced rainfall.
A group of agencies that provide water to millions of consumers across the western United States have agreed to raze lawns in public spaces in several states to reduce water use as the Colorado River continues to suffer a major drought.
More than 30 agencies drawing water from the river joined the conservation agreement last week. The pledge promises to remove 30% of lawns and replace them with "drought- and climate-resilient landscaping while preserving vital cityscapes and treetops" that will benefit communities and wildlife. Authorities will remove the many well-manicured lawns seen in parking lots, neighborhood entrances and central reservations on freeways.
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Although seemingly harmless, lawns consume a lot of water. A 2016 study co-authored by NASA scientists highlighted that grass growing in arid states (such as California) could be responsible for up to 75% of a household's water use. Authorities like the Southern Nevada Water Authority have encouraged property owners to swap out lawns for plants that absorb much less water, like drip-irrigated trees.
"Replacing this grass with drip-irrigated trees and plants will save about 9.5 billion gallons of water, which is about 10% of our community's total water allocation from the Lake Mead/Colorado River," a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Department told Earther One E-mail.
So far, the commitment is a little light on details. Authorities promised to scale up water recycling efforts, but didn't say how. The agreement also failed to mention how the region's agricultural industry will reduce its water use, although it acknowledged that cities do not use most of the water coming from the river. Urban areas use about a fifth of the Colorado River's water, while agriculture absorbs the rest, the Associated Press reported. “Cities – the 20% – cannot solve the math problem. But we can certainly help solve the problem," said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, according to the Associated Press.
Western communities are already feeling the effects of some recent water conservation efforts. A small town of 500 people near the Rio Verde foothills in Arizona could be without water by the end of this year. The city does not have its own water and has drawn it from nearby Scottsdale. But late last year, Scottsdale announced it would stop transporting water to the city by 2023. City officials cited Colorado River water shortages for the shutdown. Scottsdale gets about 65% of its water from the river, and officials are attempting to reduce consumption by halting water deliveries to the small town.
Unless the region further reduces water use from the Colorado River, large reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead could dry up in as little as three years. And it doesn't look like the country's water problems are going away any time soon. Just last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the US was facing another extremely dry winter. Almost all of California, Nevada and Utah are expected to continue to experience above-average dry conditions and below-average rainfall.
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