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January 29, 2015

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Want your grass back? Plant it, water authority says


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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  1. Water conservation is undercutting the need for a $15 billion boondoggle. So what does the SNWA do? Rather than dump the boondoggle, they dump the conservation.
    Water conservation has saved 1/3 of what we used to use. We can do more and there would be no need for the pipeline thing. Keep in mind that our present debt for water projects is $3 billion, and the pipeline would cost $15 billion, if it ever got built.

  2. Water usage isn't the problem. Population is the problem. The only goal of water conservation is to protect future population growth, to what end? So more people can live with less? No, thanks.

  3. Seems idiotic to me. All these years to change the mindset of residents to conserve water and now do an about face. In 2 years there will be push to conserve and we start all over again. Crazy!

  4. My wife and I were paid $1 per square foot by the SNWA to remove the grass from our back yard and replace it with fake grass. The rebate didn't quite cover the cost of the fake grass, but it went a long way toward it. This decision is quite possibly the most idiotic decision by a public body in Clark County I've seen in a long time. No, was the bus contract debacle. On the other hand...maybe it was four sitting or former county commissioners under indictment for fraud involving a topless bar. Oh, no...maybe it was the North Las Vegas election that was decided by one illegal vote. Damn, ain't Nevada wonderful?

  5. Maybe if we all start using MORE water, they'll lower our rates!

  6. Wow. Just when you thought you had seen it all, along comes one of the dumbest decisions I've heard of in years. Thank you Steve Sisolak for voting NO to this insanity. Too bad the rest of them don't have any common sense to figure out how dumb this decision is.

    At least they'll generate some new jobs when they hire an ad agency to replace the slogan: "It's a desert out there". Water away folks, water away, besides us not so waterwise bureaucrats at SNWA want to justify the third straw and we want that pipeline too!

  7. Lake Mead will rise a projected 25 to 30 feet. SNWA can't allow that to happen and justify a Pipe Line that Cost 15 billion dollars. SNWA and CCSD are Construction Companies they don't care about the residents. If they don't spend it they will have to lower rates and taxes.

  8. The water authority seems to be oblivious to the PR aspects of its action. For all practical purposes, the effect of the change on water usage will be the proverbial drop in the bucket - probably not even measurable. And, in budget terms, have an impact just as insignificant. However, having said all that, it's the message sent by the action that matters. The water authority just does not get that its actions have meaning beyond the action itself. This particular action makes it look like the water authority is easing off of conservation efforts. That may not be the intent, but it is the way the action will be seen. The business model may work but the PR damage has more impact.

  9. Comment removed by moderator. Name Calling

  10. I'm curious as to see how they can justify a citation to people who waste water and please tell me the definition to wasting water.

  11. To ScottNV
    "In perpetuity" is a restriction not on the owner, but on the property itself. It's a deed restriction that impacts forever what can be done on that property. That's what the SNWA is paying for when they rebate a property owner for installing desert landscaping.

  12. I think everyone missed the point. They are saying that if you are intent on having your grass back we can't do much about that but you owe us the money we gave you to take it out.

  13. So first it was the electric company, they push us to conserve and then they raise the rates because we're not using as much power. The government here seems to be run by Huey Dooey and louie!

  14. Seems to me, it will require a payment of at least five thousand dollars to get the right to resod your yard. How many people are going to do that?

  15. mred -
    You make a good point in comparing the impact of what is happening in Clark County, to what happened in the movie: "Chinatown." No one knew what was going on, no one cared, and on one did anything about it. Growth of private interests was all that mattered, and MONEY was the genesis of the plan.

    Sound familiar?

    The ($15) Billion dollar plan to drain water from Northern Nevada is a part of a "feeding frenzy" that the SNWA Director, Pat Mulroy, came up with. The idea was to bring water to Clark County for the millions of new Nevada residents that were supposed to be coming. Well, many of them came - and have now - left.

    So those who believe that there is no looming water shortage NOW (at least not like it was), are probably correct. But there is still the incessant desire on the part of builders, investors, and politicians - as well as the Water Authority (who WANTS to build the Empire) - to EXPAND our WATER CAPACITY AT ANY COST; whether we need it or not.

    Remember the phrase: "Build it and they will come"? Well that may not be true any more in Las Vegas for economic and other reasons that appear in the press daily. In fact, thousands have left town already, and it will take a few years (an S&P 500 study says until 2015 or longer) for this town to recover from its business losses, let alone create replacement jobs for former employees that have been lost.

    Las Vegas has been rated as the most miserable city in the nation to live in, having the lowest scoring educational system, the highest drop-out rates, and the highest unemployment market in the entire UZnited States.

    So, WHAT CONDITIONS will soon emerge that will bring more people to Las Vegas - and thus, justify the NEED for additional, exorbitant, and seemingly unnecessary construction of NEW WATER SOURCE?

    If there is no qualified answer to that question, then Steve Sisolak is correct at wanting WAIT and REVISIT the question of the water development in Clark County.

    That $15 BILLION pipeline to steal water from Northern Nevada ranchers (it used to be estimated at $2 Billion) - until another study was done) is an unnecessary "prize" for developers. And Utah is upset about this pipeline ever since its inception - because half of the underground water lies in Utah (and you can't split it into two pieces).

    So I hope that the citizens of Clark County, and other affected cities in Nevada, will make their voices known - and ask the Governor and other officials - elected or appointed - to show restraint and logic in this matter of water development.

  16. Asking "the Governor and the other official-elected or appointed-to show restraint and logic in this matter of water development," is a bit much, don't you think? This is NEVADA! Look at political history and follow the trail of $$$money$$$ of these people. That is what drives and inspires them solely. They are absolutely UNwilling to consider change in a way that Nevada must now deal with life differently, reverse growth model, population flight, aging infrastructures, looking at models of successful cities to help make policies and decisions. It is asking TOO MUCH.

    There should be a building moritorium, no new construction unless it is utilizing previous sites and only IF the project is WATER AND UTILITY SUSTAINABLE FOR LIFE!!!

    This is a desert with scarce resources. People need to live accordingly.