Las Vegas Sun

April 20, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: ENVIRONMENT:

Cash for grass program taking steps to entice more businesses

Nearly 5,400 homeowners ripped out about 6.5 million square feet of grass from their yards last year as part of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s program to replace water-wasting turf with desert landscaping.

The Water Authority had offered a new high of $2 per square foot for the first 1,500 square feet of grass. Homeowners received rebates of $1 for each additional square foot removed.

Last year 468 businesses also signed up, removing more than 12 million square feet of grass.

But this year the Water Authority is hoping to beat that number by attracting more commercial customers — including golf courses and apartment complexes — to the program with a $1.50 per square foot rebate for an unlimited amount of grass.

Among the companies that have signed on so far is Camden Oasis, a division of Camden Property Trust, which owns 70,000 apartments in 13 states. Camden has ripped out 1.1 million square feet of grass at 16 of its 30 properties in Nevada, and plans to remove another 1 million square feet when its budget allows.

Erik Proksch, landscaping superintendent for Camden Oasis, the company’s local branch, said the company has saved $200,000 on its water bills so far and plans to pass some of that on to renters.

The Water Authority wants to attract more commercial customers because each one removes, on average, almost 22 times as much grass as the average homeowner. Homeowners typically remove about 1,200 square feet; commercial properties average 26,000 square feet apiece.

The Water Authority said this week that since the program began in 2003 customers have removed more than 107 million square feet of water-sucking turf.

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The National Congress of American Indians has joined ranchers and environmentalists in opposing the Water Authority’s plans to pump ground water to Las Vegas from Spring Valley, Snake Valley or anywhere else in the Great Basin.

The largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments voted last week to support the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation in their effort to persuade Nevada State Engineer Tracy Taylor to deny additional water rights to the Water Authority and stop construction of the multibillion-dollar pipeline to Southern Nevada.

The Goshutes, whose reservation is about 70 miles southeast of Wendover on the Utah-Nevada line, oppose the project, said Ed Naranjo, tribal vice chairman. They have protested the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to sign two agreements dropping opposition to pumping in exchange for assurances from the Water Authority that ground water withdrawal won’t harm sensitive animals and plants.

The American Indian organization’s resolution said the Great Basin contains springs, seeps, wetlands and meadows that are of spiritual and cultural importance to the Shoshone, Paiute, Goshute and Washoe tribes.

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An environmental group is suing the Bureau of Reclamation, insisting its operation of the Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona is harming endangered fish, cultural resources and beaches in the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon Trust filed a lawsuit late last year against the bureau alleging that current operation of the dam violates the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto’s office announced last week that the state, as well as the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, have joined six other states in supporting the bureau against the suit.

“Nevada has an interest in the operation of Glen Canyon Dam as it has an effect on power generation and quality of water in Lake Mead,” said a news release from Masto’s office.

Nikolai Lash, water program director for the Grand Canyon Trust, said it is important for the environmental health of the protected canyon to have periodic high flows followed by steady river flows. But to maximize power sales revenue from the dam, the bureau prefers to release less water at night and more water during the day when power needs are greater, Lash said.

The bureau has proposed a management plan with no floods and unsteady flows for the next five years.

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