NewsLocal News


Water conservation authority considers 'turf buyback' as St. George reviews wasteful ordinances

Posted at 4:31 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 19:13:48-04

ST. GEORGE, Utah — Mayor Michele Randall's backyard is turning brown and she's OK with it.

She's among those who are following the advice of Washington County's water conservancy district to cut lawn watering to only three times a week for southern Utah in the state's drought emergency (it's recommended only twice a week in northern Utah).

"I’m trying to do my part and set the example," the mayor said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

Mayor Randall is not done.

"As a city? We’re identifying acres and acres of turf that we’re going to be removing so we can conserve water. But there’s still a lot we need to do," she said.

She and members of the city council have called for a review all of St. George's ordinances and policies with an eye toward water savings.

"We’re lush. We have a lot of grass around here that we’re starting to re-think and say, 'If you only use it to mow it? Let it go," the mayor said.

Mayor Randall said other policies being looked at include ordinances that required a certain percentage of landscaping be turf or prohibiting certain water-hogging trees in developments. She's urging residents to think of things like covering a swimming pool when not in use to avoid evaporation, and second-homes in the area that water a lawn that the owner isn't even there for.

The city's famed golf courses have made changes with an eye toward water savings. New developments in the area have prohibited turf lawns or kept them small.

"You’ve got a lot of churches with lots and lots of lush, grass that nobody even steps on. It would be nice to see them replacing that with xeriscape," Mayor Randall said.

One idea being considered to get Washington County residents to change their outdoor watering habits is paying people to kill their lawns. The Washington County Water Conservancy District told FOX 13 it is considering a "turf buyback" program to incentivize people to move toward drought-friendly landscaping.

"When a lot of these landscape ordinances were passed, the goal was wanting to keep the community vibrant and look well-maintained. They’ve learned they can have that same look by using water-friendly landscaping," said Zachary Renstrom, the general manager of the water conservancy district.

The idea is very preliminary, but it would offer money to help people get over the hurdle of new landscaping. Renstrom said the water conservancy district is not pushing people to get rid of their lawns, but reimagine how it could look with less grass and more drought-friendly plants.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District offers tips for how to convert to desert-friendly landscaping.

"Instead of having a lot of grass, maybe only have 10% of your lawn be grass? You still have a place where neighbors can congregate and stand and have that feel, but the entire front lawn isn’t grass," Renstrom said.

Mayor Randall said some of the policy changes may be painful for some residents, but they are necessary. The Washington County Water Conservancy District has said it has enough water to get through this year, but plans are being made for drastic measures in the years to come.

"There’s going to be people that are going to have some pain points on this," Mayor Randall said. "But in the long run? I want to have a shower. I want to have a nice drink of water. I want to flush my toilet, so I’m willing to do my part."