SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee voted unanimously to advance a bill in the Utah State Legislature that offers incentives for people to ditch non-functional turf in favor of water-wise landscaping.
Rep. Robert Spendlove's House Bill 121 also requires state government to practice what it preaches, by forcing the state to cut watering at all government facilities by 25%. All future state government facilities cannot have more than 20% of their landscaping be turf.
"Not only is our state in severe drought, but we’re also facing dramatic population increase. My thought is the best way we can encourage people to be water-wise, is we set the example," Rep. Spendlove, R-Sandy, told the House Natural Resources Committee on Monday.
Rep. Spendlove has proposed the state spend up to $5 million on incentives to get people to ditch non-functioning grasses (like park strips or lawns that are barely used) for more drought-friendly local landscaping. Because of the ongoing drought situation, Utahns voluntarily conserved billions of gallons of water last summer. The drought emergency is expected to continue into this year.
But committee chair Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, said he had concerns about going too far. Citing carbon sequestration, he worried that ripping up all the lawns would create heat traps.
"I just don’t want us to have unintended consequences to our environment by saying 'grass is bad let’s take all the grass out and put rocks in or something,'" he said.
Rep. Spendlove insisted that was not the point of the bill.
"It’s those extra areas, those non-functioning turf that we’re really trying to get," he told Rep. Stratton.
The bill is one of a series of legislation on Utah's Capitol Hill dealing with the state's ongoing drought situation. He is working with Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, on legislation that bans cities and homeowners associations from requiring lush, green lawns.
"My bill just says we should no longer have any governmental entities in Utah forcing a property owner to put in lawn," Rep. Ward told FOX 13 News on Monday.
The bill says lawns can still be used, but it prohibits cities and HOAs from requiring turf-only. They can also expand it to xeriscaping or other options. Several cities discovered they were requiring turf after Governor Spencer Cox asked them to audit their own ordinances in the drought emergency.
"I hope everybody is thinking about ways to move more and more in this direction, both cities and homeowners associations and individual property owners need to be figuring out how to do this better so we can have some water left for growth and some water left so that we still have the lake," Rep. Ward said, referring to the Great Salt Lake.
Rep. Ward's House Bill 95 is expected to get a hearing soon. It is among a package of bills being advanced by lawmakers to deal with water demands and conservation. Bills are also being proposed to optimize agriculture, offering incentives for farmers and ranchers to switch to new water-saving technology; and allowing water rights holders to lease their water to conservation groups to get into the Great Salt Lake.
Late Monday, Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, filed House Bill 282, which bans government and private entities from banning water-wise landscaping.