September 28, 2021

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Las Vegas Says Ban Ornamental Grass, Nonfunctional Turf, I Say Rise Up In The War On Lawns

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(Image via Getty)

The Southern Nevada Water Authority just requested that the Nevada Legislature outlaw approximately 40 percent of the grass that nobody walks on in the Las Vegas area. Las Vegas is in the middle of a desert. Cultivating big useless patches of nonnative grass, which require a lot of the water that is locally very scarce, is painfully stupid.

“To be clear, we are not coming after your average homeowner’s backyard,” said Justin Jones, who serves on the water authority’s board, to the Associated Press. Huh? Why not? “[But t]he only people that ever set foot on grass that’s in the middle of a roadway system are people cutting the grass… . That’s dumb.” Alright, that’s more like it.

According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, nearly eight square miles in the Las Vegas metro area are covered with “nonfunctional turf” — nonnative grass that no person ever walks on or otherwise uses in any fashion. Nonfunctional turf carpets numerous street medians, office parks, and housing developments in and around Las Vegas. This ornamental grass needs four times more water than local drought-tolerant decorative flora, like cactus and other succulents. By removing the invasive decorative grass, the Las Vegas area could reduce its water consumption by about 15 percent, saving roughly 14 gallons of water per person per day.

Las Vegas has been a leader in water conservation through turf minimization since at least 2003. It offers owners of older properties one of the most generous rebates around to rip up their sod: as much as three dollars per square foot. But this proposed full ban on nonfunctional turf is the latest, and potentially toughest, lawn reduction policy in the nation.

And I say, hurrah! This is the opening salvo in the war on lawns that I’ve been training for my whole life! Lawns suck!

Do you even know why we have lawns? As I angrily rant at parties, to the chagrin of many guests who quickly stop making eye contact: we only have lawns because rich, foreign noblemen born into their positions as oppressors wanted to rub their ostentatious wealth in all our faces. In the 17th century, smaller European landowners had to use what land was available to graze livestock or grow crops, but very rich assholes increasingly used human labor to scythe and weed the grass close to their homes. No sheep up by the house for them! Having a human-tended lawn of closely shorn grass was a mark of wealth and status, and a big f*ck you to all the peasants dying of dysentery who couldn’t afford better sanitation systems.

So, we decided it was a good idea to import the lawn tradition to America, and in maybe the most American tradition of all, forget about its horrid origins.

It’s not just the origin of lawns and the water scarcity they cause that make lawns awful. Think of all the gasoline wasted running lawnmowers, and all the human capital squandered on mowing lawns. I spent two summers mowing the nonfunctional turf at my former high school, and while I guess I appreciated the barely more than minimum wage I was earning, surely I could have put that time to better use doing something like writing about why it is a waste of time to plant invasive grass all over then cut it really short every few days. There are just such better options out there. Plant some native plants, for crying out loud.

Although the war on lawns is finally picking up steam, it’s difficult to bust any tradition, even (maybe especially) the stupid ones. Irrespective of Las Vegas, and despite worsening droughts and the proliferation of interstate water battles, other desert cities, like Salt Lake City and Phoenix, have been loath to follow suit.

You don’t have to be perfect. I still have some grass myself: it’s roughly the size of a postage stamp, it takes me 10 minutes to cut with one of those old-time manual push reel mowers, and it is surrounded by a much-bigger buffet for local pollinators. So just consider dipping your toe in. Maybe eliminate a little piece of grass at first and make positive change one small step at a time. More than anything else, if you want to help curb not only a stupid but a dangerous tradition, stop judging your neighbors if they don’t have a perfectly cropped neon-green lawn that looks like a baseball outfield. Fight on, brave soldiers, because the war on lawns is finally here.


Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].

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