Non-Functional Grass?

Closeup of a single-species lawn (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

24 August 2021

If you’re looking for a sign of the End Times, here’s one: Las Vegas, the city where seemingly anything and everything is condoned, has made grass — the ornamental kind — illegal.

Much of the West is experiencing the worst drought in decades, a “megadrought” that has kindled early wildfires and severe water shortages. … Enter aridification, exit grass. Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada just signed into law bill AB356, which requires the removal of all “nonfunctional turf” from the Las Vegas Valley by the year 2027.

New York Times, 11 June 2021: Where the Grass is Greener Except When It’s ‘Nonfunctional Turf’

The law was prompted by a crisis in June when Lake Mead, which supplies 90% of the Las Vegas Valley’s water, fell to the critically low point that triggers federally mandated water cuts. (See photos here.) Nevada knew it was coming and was ready with an easy way to save water — they banned non-functional grass.

In Pittsburgh where it rains regularly and sometimes too much we don’t have the term “non-functional grass,” but like the rest of America we have plenty of grass that no one walks on in office parks, street medians, parking lots, and even front yards. For example, here is the ultimate in non-functional grass (not in Pittsburgh; photo from Wikimedia Commons).

Non-functional grass around a concrete planter (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… and some examples in Las Vegas. These photos were taken 7 to 13 years ago so the sites may have changed considerably.

Non-functional grass at Royal Links Golf Course parking lot, 2009 (photo by Dan Perry via Flickr Creative Commons license)
Non-functional grass in Circus Circus KOA parking lot, 2008 (photo by Marco Metzler via Flickr Creative Commons license)

In Las Vegas all turf has to be irrigated and 31% of it is non functional. Golf courses, parks and single-family backyards are allowed because their grass is used. The big green swatch, below, will be irrigated. Even so, the non-functional turf ban will save 10% of the water supply.

Aerial view of Las Vegas area near South Highlands Golf Club, 2014 (photo by Jim Mullhaupt via Flickr Creative Commons license)

So what will fill the gaps when the grass is gone?

Many places in Las Vegas have already solved the problem with xeric (desert) landscaping or “xeriscaping.” Again, these photos are 7 to 15 years old so the sites may look different now.

Xeric landscaping at Paiute Golf Resort, 2006 (photo by Dan Perry via Flickr Creative Commons license)
Desert landscaping at Railroad Cottages, Springs Preserve Las Vegas, 2018 (photo by Rosa Say via Flickr Creative Commons license)
Desert landscaping at UNLV near Flora Dunhan Humanities building, 2006 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In Pittsburgh we have so much water that we never think about useless grass. Sometimes we irrigate it. Sometimes the sprinklers run in the rain! Bob Donnan has tips for watering in southwestern Pennsylvania to avoid fungus in your grass or garden.

Meanwhile, for those of us who hate to cut, weed, and fertilize grass in the rainy eastern U.S. a ban on non-functional grass would a blessing in disguise.

Click here to learn more about xeriscaping.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr Creative Commons licenses; click on the captions to see the originals)

7 thoughts on “Non-Functional Grass?

  1. In the pictures, there are a lot of full shrubs and perhaps non-native trees. Those plants would not do well without irrigation systems to water them, probably daily. I see this every time that I visit my daughter’s family in Phoenix. True xeriscape yards rely a lot on cacti and other very slow growing plants, without the irrigation, in my opinion. It also amazes me that there are lakes all over Phoenix with pontoon boats and other small boats. Someday those lakes will be filled in. In the meantime, they’ll continue to pump water from the aquifer until it’s gone.

    Apparently, Las Vegas thinks golf courses are “functional.”

    1. Those shrubs bothered me, too, Jim. And the trees. The pictures are distant enough that I can’t tell if the shrubs are cacti but I am fairly confident that the location in the Springs Preserve photo is xeriscaped.

      Lakes in Phoenix?!? Crazy. About 20 years ago a Pittsburgh friend moved to Phoenix and got a job in Phoenix City Planning. Back then the City was very proud of the fact that they didn’t have to worry about water because they had 75 more years of water supply. Their water had a time limit? Only 75 years? Now 20 years have passed & Phoenix may have overestimated how much time they had. Meanwhile, there is no time limit on the water supply in the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers … at least not yet.

  2. Some cities in California have done this as well. Our local Post Office now has Astro turf. I don’t think of it as the End Times as much as it’s about time. People move to the desert, then want the greenery they grew up with. Gardens in Beverly Hills rival the English countryside. Right on about Phoenix. Scottsdale , too. People used to move there for allergies, now it has one of the highest pollen counts around. In Palm Springs and the surrounding area, there are resorts that include gondola rides around their “canals”. meanwhile the Salton Sea is drying up. Now, see, you got me started…

  3. Don’t think the term ‘non-functional grass’ could ever apply in a rainy region like Pittsburgh. Even if the grass isn’t being used, it still serves a purpose as its root system helps hold the topsoil in place and prevent it from washing away when it rains.

    1. Excellent observation, J. I hadn’t thought of that, probably because our steeply sloped non-functional front yard at our old house was planted in sedum.

  4. Hello,

    It makes me laugh when the City of Las Vegas is making a big deal about saving every drop of water they can by replacing little plots of grass, however, they keep building thousands of new homes, office buildings, and commercial properties all over the valley and it’s not slowing down. You would think they would slow down the development to save more water. Seems like a major contradiction to me, remove a little spot of grass, but keep on building. Boggles my mind.

    1. Yep, same here in CA. Water cut backs, but new homes going up all around. Very simple. Building brings in $$$.

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