WASHINGTON CITY, Utah — Outside the Washington City Cemetery and a nearby athletic field, city crews are removing turf.
"We've identified areas throughout the city that we have deemed as non-functional turf, or grass that does not have a defined, recreational, purposeful use," Mayor Kress Staheli said. "We’re removing the grass and replacing it with a natural desert-scape."
It's part of a statewide effort called "Flip Blitz" launching next week that will get rid of non-functional grasses, which use a lot of water to keep lush and green (and nobody really uses). Washington County will make up roughly 85% of the turf removal in the event, with communities collectively tearing out more than 102,000 square feet of grass on May 19.
"It’s going to save over four million gallons of water a year," said Zachary Renstrom, the general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District. "So we’re really excited about it and we’re excited to show you can still have great landscaping."
Mayor Staheli said the city will replace the grass with natural landscaping that uses less water and still has a cooling effect in southern Utah's hot temperatures. Last year, Washington City removed 22,000 square feet of non-functional grass and is planning to remove 33,000 square feet this year.
"The reality is, we live in a desert and we rely on a single source for water," he said. "So we have to do all we can to be water wise."
Renstrom said their reservoirs are doing better than some in northern Utah, although residents are still being asked to conserve as the state endures another year of drought. Cities across Washington County have been reviewing their landscaping ordinances with water savings in mind.
"I would say the days of non-functioning green grass are over," Renstrom told FOX 13 News. "We’re still going to have grass down here. Grass has a purpose, we want our kids to go out and play on it, we want people to recreate on it. But that’s just it. We want it to be functional grass that people are using."
A number of cities across Utah are starting to offer incentives to get people to remove non-functional grasses from their yards. The Utah State Legislature this year appropriated money to get more people to "flip the strip," referring to the grassy parking strip in front of homes.
The St. George region is the fastest growing metro area in the nation and growth will only add to the demands for water. Mayor Staheli said water conservation is critical and his city was choosing to set an example for residents.
"This is a very visual way for those who live here in Washington to see the city is leading by example. We’re removing non-functional turf. We’re doing landscape conversion to desert-scape and we’re hopeful that they see and they choose to follow suit," he said.