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Utah legislature considers incentives to ditch turf, ban cities and HOAs from requiring lawns

Posted at 4:48 PM, Nov 15, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature is considering bills to encourage people get rid of "non-functional turf" and block cities and HOAs from requiring lawns.

The bills, which will be introduced in the 2022 legislative session, come as the latest winter forecast shows a warm, dry one.

"We’re not super encouraged at the moment. The snow pack in southern Utah is below average for this time of year," said Jordan Clayton with the Utah Snow Survey. "It’s very early in the snow season to get too up in arms in either direction. It certainly would be nice to see some more snow in our mountains in the ground throughout the state."

The good news is, soil moistures are up. That means what rain and snow we get will go into reservoirs for future use instead of right into the ground. Clayton told FOX 13 that some reservoirs are at 50% capacity, which is also good.

"Part of that was mother nature helping us out," he said. "Part of that was the people around the state doing the hard work to slow down how much water they were using."

After a dismal water year, the state is preparing for drought conditions to extend into 2022, with more water restrictions. On Utah's Capitol Hill, lawmakers are now preparing a number of water conservation bills. Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, is planning a bill to get rid of "non-functional turf," which is grass outside a lot of commercial and government buildings that is not used.

"It’s just grass that you don’t ever use. It’s for looks," he said.

The bill would start with residential users, expanding incentives for people to get rid of their lawns in favor of water-wise landscaping. Local water districts have reported that Utahns are responding positively to incentives to finally ditch their lawns for xeriscaping or more water-saving measures.

His legislation would also demand future government buildings have no more than 20% grass and existing government buildings cut their water use by 25%.

"That is water that can go into the Great Salt Lake. That is water that can go to farmers, that’s water that can be used in so many other ways and we just don’t have the water to waste," Rep. Spendlove told FOX 13.

He said that potentially would include the Utah State Capitol, which has a green lawn in front.

Asked why he isn't considering mandating it for private businesses, Rep. Spendlove said he would like to offer incentives for residents and have government set the example.

Another bill Rep. Spendlove said he is considering would prohibit cities and homeowners associations from requiring green lawns. Across Utah, cities have been reviewing their ordinances with an eye toward water conservation. In St. George, Mayor Michele Randall has proposed some tough changes to make her community conserve water as it continues to grow (including an end to future golf course construction).

Rep. Spendlove said his own community of Sandy has required some lawn in its ordinances, and he knows of HOAs that have tried to enforce their own green lawn policies (even in a drought).

"For decades cities and HOAs have been requiring people to put in grass," he said. "A big part of this is just undoing those governments regulations and allowing people to decide what’s the best landscaping for them."