How green should
we be?
A sprinkler is on to water grass at Green Valley Parkway in March in Henderson. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

PART 6: Southern Nevada water agency intensifies turf war


aving water in Las Vegas is an all-out turf war, and the campaign is far from over. Since 1999, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has overseen the removal of more than 187 million square feet of grass and prevented untold millions more from being planted through a 2004 ban on lawns in front of new homes and commercial properties. Limiting turf has allowed the community to add roughly 650,000 new residents over the past decade and a half while cutting overall water use by 26 percent.

“Probably the most meaningful thing that we’ve ever done in this valley is to regulate the use of ornamental turf grass,” said water authority conservation manager Doug Bennett.

And there’s still plenty of green out there to eliminate.

Authority General Manager John Entsminger said the effort so far has only eliminated about half of the “nonfunctional turf” that can be realistically removed from the valley. “So in theory, if you could take out the same amount of turf over the next 20 years, not only could you add another 650,000 people, you could actually be using less water than you’re using today,” he said.

Stretching the water supply as far as possible is expected to take on added significance next year, when the authority could be forced to cut its annual Colorado River entitlement to help slow Lake Mead’s decline. Even before that, the seven Western states that draw water from the river face a March 19 federal deadline to submit plans to voluntarily trim their use on top of mandatory cuts likely to kick in Jan. 1.

“The more turf we can remove from the valley, the more secure our water portfolio becomes for everyone who lives here (now) and everyone who lives here in the future,” Entsminger said. “I don’t care about soccer fields and schools. I want the grass that only gets walked on when it’s being mowed out of the valley. If we do that, we’re not going to have a water supply problem in this community for the foreseeable future.”

Not-so-green valley

Already, the authority’s turf rebate program is credited with saving about 10 billion gallons of water a year — enough to supply more than 65,000 average households. Since its inception 20 years ago, the program has paid residents and business owners more than $220 million to replace their grass with desert landscaping.

After more than 50 years in Las Vegas, Mary Klosowski-Lewis finally gave up the lawn in front of her northwest valley home late last year.

“It just gets a little expensive with this big a yard and watering the grass,” she said. “It just seemed like it was the time to do it.”

The higher rebate amount adopted by the authority in December also helped.

“The incentive’s very nice. It’s $3 a square foot, and it’s a lot of foots,” Klosowski-Lewis said with a laugh.

Residents aren’t the only ones ripping out their turf.

The city of Las Vegas has saved an estimated 300 million gallons of water and $1.3 million in water costs over the past decade by removing 1.2 million square-feet of turf from parks and golf courses, rolling out 28 artificial turf ballfields and decorating street medians with rocks and metal sculptures instead of plants.

In Henderson, most of the golf courses and a few of the landscaped roadway medians are irrigated with reclaimed wastewater, while parks in Nevada’s second-largest city are getting less grassy by the minute.

Parks Superintendent Doug Guild said Henderson has eliminated a substantial amount of turf from older parks and changed the way new ones are designed to minimize thirsty grass.

“In the past, we used to put grass everywhere,” he said. Now a park might get one small patch to play on. The average amount of turf coverage has gone from as much as 90 percent at the city’s oldest parks to around 10 percent at its newest ones.

Over the last 15 years, he said, Henderson has removed 1.5 million square feet of turf and saved about 82 million gallons of water — enough to fill 115 Olympic-size swimming pools.

To improve efficiency, the city has installed high-tech irrigation systems that measure soil moisture and track the weather so the turf only gets as much water as it needs.

This summer, Guild said, Henderson will begin converting the ballfields at eight parks from fescue to a more durable Bermuda grass that turns brown but only needs to be watered once a month or so in winter.


The city has also experimented with synthetic turf at its Heritage Sports Complex, but Guild said sports teams seem to prefer to play on the real stuff.

Many miles left to go

Valleywide, Bennett said, the amount of turf replaced so far is enough to form an 18-inch-wide roll of sod more than 24,000 miles long. If you unspooled that roll along the equator, it would stretch roughly 95 percent of the way around the globe, he said. “And I’m not retiring until we close the gap, I can tell you that.”

When the authority hired him in 2000, Bennett never imagined there was so much grass growing in the Las Vegas Valley. Now thanks to multispectral aerial imagery, computer modeling and the anecdotal observations he’s made driving around town, he knows there’s “maybe another 25,000-mile roll of sod that’s sitting in people’s front yards and on street corners and other places where it’s not serving a functional use.”

Bennett and his colleagues hope to eliminate that gradually through the turf rebate program and keep it out with stricter landscaping codes, enforcement and community outreach.

But water officials insist they are not waging a scorched-earth campaign. Turf used for playgrounds, ballfields, parks and even golf courses is fine with them.

“It’s the nonfunctional turf, the ornamental turf that we’re really after,” Entsminger said. “I live in Summerlin, and I’m angry every day when I drive by traffic circles with spray irrigation in them. I always imagine the poor landscaper who has to get the lawn mower out there at 4 in the morning through a traffic circle.

“Or, worse, Summerlin Parkway,” he added. “I mean, we have grass in the middle of highways.”

Some of the valley’s wealthiest residents haven’t gotten the message yet, either.

There is a saying that water flows uphill toward money. In Southern Nevada, a disproportionate share ends up inside the walls of guarded, gated communities with lush lawns and names like Spanish Trail, The Fountains, Canyon Gate and Anthem Country Club. Some of these opulent neighborhoods are home to the valley’s largest residential users — single addresses that gulp down enough water each year to supply 50 to 80 average valley homes.

“Every now and then I get an invitation to go visit someone I know in some exclusive gated community, and in some of them I drive into, it looks like it’s 1994 all over again,” Bennett said. “We just need to make better decisions about what our landscapes and outdoor living spaces are and what functions they provide to us.”

Contact Henry Brean at or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

Pallets of sod are displayed at Star Nursery in March in Henderson. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Turf-rebate timeline

1999: The program, then known as Southern Nevada Xeriscapes, is launched with a water bill credit of 25 cents for every square-foot of lawn replaced with desert landscaping.
2000: The credit is raised to 40 cents per square-foot.
2002: The initiative is rebranded as the Water Smart Landscapes program.
2004: In response to worsening drought on Colorado River, the bill credit becomes a cash rebate and jumps to $1 per square-foot. The result: almost 9,000 turf conversions totaling more than 34 million square-feet, the biggest year by far in program history.
2007: To boost waning participation, the Southern Nevada Water Authority increases the rebate to $2 for a year, then sets it at $1.50 per square-foot.
2015: The rebate returns to $2.
December 2018: The authority ups the payout to $3 per square-foot and eases size limitations to attract more large conversion projects.

News Videos
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Mylar Balloon Demo
NV Energy presented a demonstration Wednesday to depict the damage that can be caused by the release of Mylar balloons.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students.
Educators dressed in red have taken to the streets to demand more for their students. Educators from around the State are bringing the Red for Ed movement to the steps of the Nevada Legislature in Carson City, NV, and to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Local Videos
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kids Read Books To Dogs At The Animal Foundation In Las Vegas
Kids from local Las Vegas elementary schools took part, Thursday, in a program at the Animal Foundation, where they read books to dogs. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pioneer Trail highlights historic locations in West Las Vegas
The Pioneer Trail, a 16-site route of historically significant locations in Las Vegas, starts at the Springs Preserve and snakes east until it reaches above the brim of downtown. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutefsya
Vegas Warm Weather Hits Las Vegas Valley
Between Feb. 20-21, parts of the Las Vegas Valley were hit with 7.5" of snow. Less than a week later, it was sunny with temperatures in the 70s. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II veteran, talks about his arrest at the VA Hospital
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, a World War II Army veteran, was arrested in November after he caused a ruckus at the VA Hospital in North Las Vegas and stole his driver's car keys. He was arraigned on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, and the charges will be dropped after 60 days. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Claytee White talks about Black History Month
An interview with Claytee White, director of the Oral History Research Center at UNLV. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reflecting on the Moulin Rouge and a segregated Vegas
Former employees of the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel-casino in Nevada, talk about what it was like in the brief six months the casino was open. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas home prices
Home prices rose in every ZIP code in the Las Vegas Valley in 2018 for the second year in a row, according to SalesTraq. Prices grew fastest in older, more centrally located areas. But prices were highest in the suburbs. The top three ZIP codes for price growth were 89119 (29.8%), 89146 (25%) and 89030 (24.6%). The top three ZIP codes for median sales prices were 89138 ($464,500), 89135 ($420,500) and 89052 ($370,000).
Wagonwheel Drive overpass reopens after ice closure
Overpass at Wagonwheel Drive reopens after ice on the onramp caused the ramp to be shut down, Feb. 22, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Keeping warm at the city of Las Vegas’ homeless courtyard
With help from the city of Las Vegas, a Salvation Army shelter stays open during the day Thursday and Friday, offering a safe place for the homeless to find respite from freezing temperatures and snow. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sloppy, Slushy Road Conditions Lead to Slow Traffic
Traffic slowed to a crawl on Jones are near Russell as conditions worsened Thursday. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Winter storm blankets west side of Las Vegas Valley
On Wednesday evening through early Thursday a winter storm dumped more than 7 1/2 inches of snow on some parts of the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas snow day for children
Las Vegas kids play in the snow that fell on Feb. 21, 2019. (Belinda Englman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow closes Red Rock Canyon, residents enjoy rare snowfall
The greater Las Vegas area was hit with snowfall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2019. This video shows the areas surrounding Red Rock Canyon and the Summerlin community. Video by: Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas kids attend school in the snow
Las Vegas children attend school during a rare snowstorm on Feb. 21, 2019. Staton Elementary School and other CCSD schools remained open. (Glenn Cook/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People enjoying the snow in Summerlin
Fox Hill Park in Summerlin was busy Thursday morning, Feb. 21, 2019, with people enjoying the rare snow that fell overnight. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP advises motorists to take caution during Las Vegas snowstorm
NHP advised motorists to take caution during the snowstorm in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Timelapse of snow at Red Rock Canyon
More than 7 inches of snow fell in the western areas of the Las Vegas Valley, including Red Rock Canyon, on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow falls at Fremont Street Experince in Las Vegas
Snow falls at the Fremont Street Experience early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 in Las Vegas. (David Guzman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)