SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — As Utah's drought emergency continues, Governor Spencer Cox is pushing for incentives for people to ditch their lawns in favor of xeriscaping.
"We are committed to advancing more aggressive water conservation measures," the governor said at a news conference on Thursday at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District's conservation gardens.
The governor unveiled a series of policy shifts he will push. Some local water districts have already started implementing them. They include:
- Investing in new, water-saving technology for agriculture producers (a huge water user overall in the state).
- Restricting the use of water-wasting grasses and turf in new construction projects.
- Implementing secondary water-metering statewide, which tracks how much water is used on lawns and landscaping (and can bill people for it).
- Offering a "turf buyback" and paying people to ditch their lawns for xeriscaping.
The Central Utah Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to 50% of Utah's population, said it would begin offering up to $2,000 per home for people to ditch their lawns within the eight counties they serve.
The incentive does not mean anyone has to get rid of their lawn entirely, the water district's Rick Maloy said. They just want it limited to save more water.
"There’s still room for lawn, but we want it to be used in areas where it’s used by the family," he told FOX 13.
Outdoor water use accounts for as much as 60% of a municipal or industrial water supply.
Utah's ongoing drought emergency and dramatic population growth has forced political leaders to implement water conservation policies at a rapid pace. As of Thursday, 98% of the state is in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought — the worst categories.
Of course, some of these initiatives cost money. Senate President J. Stuart Adams told FOX 13 they would have to see some of the proposals to determine if they can use federal funds or if the legislature needs to appropriate money for them.
As FOX 13 reported last month, state officials have warned of water shutoffs if the drought continues into next year. The good news is many Utahns have been listening to the repeated pleas to conserve water. Local water districts are seeing declines in water demand in the hot summer months.
"We’ve seen variable impacts. Some areas are doing better than others," said Brian Steed, the executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. "Those areas that have really gotten down into a danger level in terms of drinking water have actually changed behaviors. So there haven’t those next draconian steps. I’m optimistic we’ll get through this next year and then we can re-evalute where we are going into next year, depending on how much water falls."
In St. George, Mayor Michele Randall said they have ripped up more than 500,000 acre feet of turf from city-owned facilities. She has ordered a review of all city ordinances to be more water conservation-friendly.
"We do not need to have grasses like we have," she said.
The city's famed golf courses, an economic engine for the southwestern Utah area, have also adapted. They use recycled water and turf has been ripped up alongside fairways to put in desert-friendly grasses.
Mayor Randall told FOX 13 that St. George will also not build any more golf courses within the resort community. She said other mayors in the area have indicated they will do the same, encouraging golfers to visit what they have.
"No more golf courses in southern Utah," she said. "St. George is done for sure. Now we have to bring the other cities on board and say we can't do it right now. We just can’t. There’s not the water to keep up with the demand on a golf course."