Lawns Are Out in Vegas

Las Vegas Sidewalk

In response to extreme ongoing drought and other compounding climate impacts, Las Vegas banned grass. Now, four million square feet of “nonfunctional turf” on public property has been removed across the Southern Nevada Water Authority jurisdiction, which spans Las Vegas and its surrounding areas. It’ll be replaced with drip-irrigated plants in line with the dry environment like desert spoon and red yucca. The grass ban became a state law with bipartisan support last year, defining what is “nonfunctional” turf and setting a 2027 deadline for removal.

"When we look at outdoor water use in Southern Nevada, landscaping far and away is the largest water user, and of that, it's grass," Bronson Mack of the Las Vegas Water Authority told CBS.

Why This Matters: The Las Vegas ban is the first in the nation, but it’s unlikely to be the last. Water levels on the Colorado River are at extreme lows, putting the drinking water for 40 million people at risk as the aridification of the Western US continues. Reservoirs at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the two largest in the country, have dipped to record lows as well.   Black and Indigenous communities, which disproportionately lack reliable access to water, stand to be the most impacted by water shortages.

Local water officials estimate that the grass ban will help the region reduce annual water consumption by 15%.

The drying up of the West: The unprecedented dryness that the US West is experiencing has been dubbed "aridification” by scientists studying the phenomenon. It’s expected to reshape the region as extreme heat and drought continue and compound. The interlinked, cascading effects of the climate crisis, beginning with pumping greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere, have increased temperatures and destabilized rainfall patterns. These impacts have led to drier soil and scorching summers, making impacts from bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires more likely, as well as possibly leading to a die-off of California's pine and cedar forests.

"All the factors in the Southwest are leading to a drier and drier climate,” Jonathan Overpeck, co-author of a 2020 paper on aridification, told the Los Angeles Times. And because they are being driven by human-caused increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we expect this drying out to just get worse and worse until we stop.”