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Utah to offer cash for replacing lush lawns with desert-tolerant landscapes

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Mark Richardson

(Utah News Connection) Starting this week, the state is taking applications for a program to pay up to $1 dollar a square foot of turf to replace water-guzzling grass with drought-resistant landscaping.

Michael Sanchez, Public Information Officer with the state Division of Water Resources said cultivating a lush, green lawn in Utah's bone-dry climate is a major water waster.

"We do live in a semi-arid state," Sanchez said. "As you know, Utah has a different landscape than something like Kentucky, where you have things like bluegrass everywhere. It's just matching our landscapes to where we actually live." 

According to data from the Division of Water Resources, Utah's system of reservoirs ended the 2022 water year at just 36% capacity. Officials said while Utah had a better-than-average snow pack this past season, it wasn't enough to keep up with the state's growing demand
for water.

The Utah Legislature approved a $5-million dollar expenditure to fund a statewide grass-removal rebate program. Participants will have a year to complete their landscaping project, which includes removing the old turf and replacing it with drought-resistant vegetation approved for their part of the state. Sanchez said swapping out the turf even in small areas can bring considerable savings. 

"Just based on a quarter-acre lot," Sanchez said, "the amount of water used on that lot is about 3,000 gallons with each watering. So just moving to something less water-intensive could be something that could save a lot of water."

The state is starting this fall with a pilot program in Washington County, including residents in St. George, Washington, Santa Clara, and Ivins, but it will be fully implemented next spring.  

Similar turf-removal programs have been successful in neighboring states, where cities such as Scottsdale and Las Vegas have swapped millions of square feet of grass for water-efficient landscapes to save billions of gallons of water.