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The Salt Lake Tribune

Leaving Green

Saving Water Starts With Innovative Landscaping


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And unfortunately, most Utah residents have always seen thick, green grass as drop-dead gorgeous. It is that, but the allure is also hideously unnatural.

Kentucky bluegrass and other popular types of turf go through water faster than Michael Phelps, draining our rivers and reservoirs and straining our limited liquid resources.

According to Dennis Strong, director of Utah's Division of Water Resources, a staggering two-thirds of Utah's culinary water is used for outdoor landscaping. That's ridiculous. We live in a desert. Precipitation is sparse. And still we try to make Utah yards look like lawns in Ohio.

Ultimately, our attempt to paint the desert green is unsustainable. Utah's population is growing. Global warming will sap our supply. And the standard solutions -- fine-tuning our sprinkler systems and watering wisely -- won't be enough. Unless we curb our obsession with green grass, our only options will be extreme conservation measures, or costly water supply expansion projects that soak ratepayers.

Some of us get it, and already have embraced water-wise landscaping techniques. And for the rest of us, it's not too late to change our wasteful ways.

First, we have to adjust the way we think about exterior landscaping. Even Webster's College Dictionary has it wrong: "yard n. 1 a plot of grass adjacent to a building, house, etc." We need to redefine the term to include the essential elements of xeriscaping.

Then, once we've changed our mind-set, and a Tucson tableau is no longer taboo, we need to put on our gardening gloves and start pulling turf.

By converting to drip irrigation systems that deliver water precisely and efficiently; by planting drought-resistant grasses, trees and shrubs; and by covering large sections of lawn and parking strips with mulch and stone, we will make croquet very difficult to play. But we will dramatically reduce our water usage.

It will take a cooperative effort. Municipal councils need to revise those outdated landscaping ordinances that require copious ground cover, and that specify grass as the preferred vegetation. And they need to encourage water conservation by adopting tiered rate structures that penalize heavy users.

Developers need to think outside the flower box, too, and set aside the traditional turf and sprinkler systems in favor of innovative landscaping. And homeowners need to end the love affair with their lawns.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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