How Xeriscaping Can Save Water in Your Community

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Look! A word that starts with “x” that’s actually useful… especially if you’ve seen the Colorado River recently.

With toxic dust kicking up in the Great Salt Lake and the Colorado River 75% dried up, water has never been more scarce in Utah and its surrounding states. 

As nice as those golf courses are, and as fun as it is to mow those all grass park strips, the last thing our communities need is thirsty grass.

A simple way municipalities can help protect their residents (and people all over the West) against drought is to encourage adoption of a landscaping practice called “xeriscaping.”

We Really, Really Need to Conserve Water

Utah is consistently ranked one of the driest states in the US. The state’s relatively high levels of water consumption and fast-growing population make water conservation one of the most important issues residents and policymakers face today. 

On April 21, 2022, Governor Cox issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to 99.39% of the State of Utah experiencing “severe drought” or worse. According to the Utah Division of Water Resources, at the time of the Governor’s declaration in April 2022:

  • Utah had been in a drought for eight of the previous ten years.
  • All of Utah’s 29 counties were experiencing some level of drought.
  • Three of Utah’s top 42 reservoirs were less than 20% full.
  • Two of Utah’s top 42 reservoirs were less than 5% full. 

If we Utahns don’t change something, it will only be a matter of time before we face the same water issues as California. And that would be terrible. 

The Low-Hanging Fruit of Water Conservation

While most water goes to agriculture, plenty of water is also lost simply due to landscape maintenance. According to an official at the Utah Division of Water Resources, watering a quarter-acre of lawn takes about 3,000 gallons of water per watering

In contrast, the average person uses only 101.5 gallons of water per day. Watering your lawn enough to maintain a luscious field of green during the summer months requires a huge amount of water. So the question is, “Is it worth it?”

When irrigation water is scarce or summer temperatures flare-up, the lawns end-up dry and gross-looking anyway. A simple landscaping tactic can help each yard save thousands and thousands of gallons of water a week: xeriscaping.

Xeriscaping, Not Zeroscaping

Zeroscaping is the practice of replacing grass with rocks. It does conserve water, but it can also be ugly and can make the neighborhood hotter (plants absorb sunlight and provide shade for the ground). 

Xeriscaping is different. The idea behind it is to replace grass with native plants that require a tiny fraction of the water but that still look good.

As an added bonus, xeriscapes require far less maintenance than grass or traditional flower beds. You don’t have to mow them, and you rarely have to weed them. And because the plants are native to the area, they are much more drought-resistant, so you won’t have to deal with yellow grass all the month of August. As a bonus, the neighbor’s dog isn’t going to be able to make burn patches that are obvious all the rest of the months.

To get ideas about how xeriscaping can fit into your community, check out the following guides published by Utah State University:

Tips for Implementing Xeriscaping 

The idea of water-conserving landscapes may sound great, but making changes in your city or town is easier said than done. Here are a few tips for getting the community on board:

  • Start with commercial and municipal buildings. Landscaping in these areas is a cost to owners and is almost exclusively used for decoration, so companies and residents probably won’t mind much at all. In the long run, you’ll be saving tax-payer dollars on landscape maintenance (or helping companies do the same).
  • Target sidewalk strips and road medians. Sidewalk strips are used little compared to front lawns, and road medians are used even less. 
  • Focus on new development. If you’re considering passing an ordinance to mandate water-wise landscaping practices, you’ll meet less resistance if you focus on future development. Passing an ordinance that requires existing residents to uproot their lawns is a quick way to ensure you don’t get reelected. 
  • Offer conservation incentives. Offering tax or utility breaks for residents who are proactive about reducing their water use can make change worthwhile for them. The same approach can be applied to developers: you can make water-wise landscaping a condition for zoning variances, impact fee reductions, and so forth. 

If Your Political Landscape Is Drying Up

Then you might need some professional advice to craft your next move and protect your natural resources for future generations (while still getting reelected).

Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning and administration advice to make your community the best it can be. 

Want To Learn More?

Check out our online training modules! Note: We are able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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