Visions of a Wetter Tomorrow

How are Las Vegans handling the water restrictions? Eh.

Joe Schoenmann

It wasn't so long ago that men stood with their garden hoses, idling away the afternoon watering lawns to saturation. Those were the Days of Water, when new desert dwellers built massive fountains and fashioned putting greens in their back yards, planted Bermuda grass in the summer and overseeded with rye in the winter.

These are the Days of Dry. Lake Mead is Mead Pond, down some 3 trillion gallons below normal levels. The price of water is going up. New rules forbid new homes from planting turf in the front yard. And those men are more likely to be turned in by water-saving neighbors than ignored.

And still some Las Vegans are drenching their lawns. Of course, they're paying for it, in both higher per-gallon costs and fines. Tracy Bower, Las Vegas Valley Water District spokeswoman, said that from January 1, 2003, to August 30, the district issued 606 citations, or about 76 a month. But in September alone, it issued 181 fines; and since then, it's issued another 300, or about 50 a week. Fines are assessed to water users who ignore warnings from water-waste investigators. A broken sprinkler head, for instance, or watering on days you're not supposed to (see the district's website,, for more information) can result in a $20 fine for a first violation, $40 the second and so on. Under a "drought alert"—which the will go into effect January 1, 2004—a first fine will be $25, rising to $400 for a fifth violation.

At the same time, more businesses and homeowners are converting their lawns into desert landscapes. For every square foot converted, the Southern Nevada Water Authority offers a $1 rebate. In all of 2002, a total of 3.4 million square feet were converted. That more than doubled in 2003; residents have already converted 2.27 million square feet of grass to desert landscape; businesses have converted 5.4 million square feet.

But is it working? Are the fines, combined with watering restrictions and higher water rates—a home using 15,100 gallons paid $23.77 per month a year ago and $29.04 today—reducing? Well, yes and no.

In September, the first month of higher water rates, use fell about 10 percent from the previous September. In October, however, use was actually about 0.5 percent higher than in 2002. The Water District blamed a warmer-than-usual October for the increase. Perhaps, but October was cooler than September.

Which makes you wonder: At what price will Las Vegans give up their Midwestern turf ideals and start living like they're in the desert?

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