Understand laws and ordinances
Cutting back on "useless" grass
A law enacted by the Nevada Legislature in 2021 will prohibit the use of Colorado River water delivered by Water Authority member agencies to irrigate nonfunctional grass, beginning in 2027.
The AB356 law applies to Southern Nevada commercial, multi-family, government and other properties. It does not apply to grass in single family residences, such as grass in front and back yards.
Property owners may apply for the Water Smart Landscapes rebate, which gives $3 per square foot of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping up to the first 10,000 square feet converted, and $1.50 per square foot thereafter per property.
Cutting back on this grass in our valley will reduce Southern Nevada's Colorado River consumption and protect our community's water supply.
The Water Authority Board of Directors established a citizens advisory committee to help the Water Authority implement the new law. Their activities included defining what constitutes "nonfunctional" grass.
In 2022, development codes within the community were updated to further limit the installation of new grass. Today, only new schools, parks and cemeteries are permitted to install grass where it meets certain size specifications and provides a recreational benefit to the community. New businesses and homes cannot have grass or spray irrigation anywhere on their property.
An irrigated grass area not providing functional use. Areas of nonfunctional turf include, but are not limited to:
Grass located along public or private streets, streetscape sidewalks, driveways and parking lots, including turf within a community, park and business streetscape frontage areas, medians, and roundabouts.
Frontage, courtyard, interior and building-adjacent turf
Grass in front of, between, behind or otherwise adjacent to a building or buildings located on a property not zoned exclusively for single-family residence, including maintenance and common areas.
Certain HOA-managed landscape areas
Turf managed by a homeowner association that does not provide a recreational benefit to the community or that otherwise does not qualify as functional turf, regardless of property zoning.
An irrigated grass area that provides a recreational benefit to the community and is:
- Located at least 10 feet from a street, installed on slopes less than 25 percent and not installed within street medians, along streetscapes or at the front of entryways to parks, commercial sites, neighborhoods, or subdivisions.
- Active/programmed recreation turf, athletic fields, designated-use-area turf, golf course play areas, some pet relief turf, playground turf or resident area turf.
Active/programmed recreation turf
Grass used for recreation that is 1,500 contiguous square feet or greater; co-located with facilities; and located at least 10 feet from a street or interior-facing parking lot unless the turf area is at least 30 feet in all dimensions or immediately adjacent to an athletic field.
Athletic field turf
Grass used for sports or physical education that is 1,500 contiguous square feet or greater; not less than 30 feet in any dimension; and located at a school, daycare, religious institution, recreation center, senior center, park or water park. Athletic field turf may be located less than 10 feet from a street or interior-facing parking lot if the contiguous turf area is at least 30 feet in all dimensions.
Designated use area
Grass designated for special use at cemeteries and mortuaries.
Golf course play area
Grass in driving ranges, chipping and putting greens, tee boxes, greens, fairways and rough.
Pet relief area
Grass at a property providing commercial and retail services for pets, such as veterinarian and boarding facilities. The area must not exceed 200 square feet.
Grass in designated play areas with playground amenities, including but not limited to slides, swings and climbing structures on homeowner association owned/managed property or at a public park, water park, school, daycare, recreation center, senior center or religious institution. Playground turf may be located less than 10 feet from a street if fenced.
Resident area turf
Grass up to 150 square feet per dwelling unit at multi-family residential properties, multi-family mixed use properties, or assisted living and rehabilitation centers used by tenants for recreation or leisure. May not be located in parking lots, streetscapes or other non-accessible areas.
Any establishment may apply for a waiver for functional turf that provides a recreational benefit to the community and meets the functional turf definition.
Waiver applications must demonstrate that the turf substantially complies with the functional turf definition as indicated by:
- Activity type
- Activity-appropriate dimensions
- Number of persons served and frequency of use
- Location in proximity to similar turf areas
- Public access and proximity to roadways
- Presence of facilities and/or other recreational amenities Irrigation efficiency
Frequently asked questions
What is nonfunctional turf/useless grass?
Nonfunctional turf is grass that no one uses for sports, picnics or other recreational activities. Some areas of nonfunctional turf are simply narrow strips grass bordering parking lots, walkways, and sidewalks. These narrow areas of purely decorative grass create significant amounts of sprinkler overspray and water waste.
Other examples of nonfunctional turf are found along streets between the curb and sidewalk; in traffic circles and medians; in landscaping at office parks and commercial properties, and at entryways for housing developments.
If the only person that uses the grass is pushing a lawn mower, it’s nonfunctional.
Why is removing this grass a priority?
Water is a limited resource in our desert community, so conservation is a priority for everyone who lives here. Low water levels at Lake Mead have caused the federal government to issue a water shortage declaration on the Colorado River, reducing the amount of water Southern Nevada can withdraw from Lake Mead. Combined with existing water reductions outlined in the Drought Contingency Plan, the declared shortage will cut Southern Nevada’s annual water allocation by nearly 7 billion gallons in 2022. This is enough water to serve more than 40,000 households for a year.
Does this mean you’ll show up at my house to remove my grass?
No. The legislation doesn’t include single-family residential homes that have grass in the back or front yard. We estimate that approximately 1,000 acres of nonfunctional turf remains at residential properties—primarily front- yard grass. However, we encourage residents to voluntarily convert any unused grass to drip-irrigated, desert-friendly plants and trees, and we offer a cash incentive to help offset those costs.
What about grass that is used by the community, like in parks and at schools?
We support the continued use of grass for recreational activities (organized sports, exercise, picnicking, etc.). We estimate there are about 7,600 acres of grass used for these purposes in the Las Vegas valley – in parks, schools, and sports fields.
What does the legislation include?
The legislation prohibits the use of Colorado River water to irrigate nonfunctional turf on properties that are not zoned exclusively for single-family residences after Jan. 1, 2027. It called for the formation of a Nonfunctional Turf Removal Advisory Committee which provided community input and feedback from stakeholders affected by the proposal and made recommendations to the SNWA board of directors. The five-year timeline between the legislation's passage and the deadline for turf removal will ensure the community can transition to water efficient landscaping with opportunities for community input and feedback.
Grass helps cool outdoor areas in the valley. It's attractive. And my dog likes it!
Desert plants, including canopy trees and flowering bushes, are great for shading and cooling outdoor areas. On a hot summer day, you see more people sitting in the shade than in the middle of the grass. Tree canopies and plants shade sidewalks, buildings and rock ground coverings, helping reduce heat absorption while using less water than grass. Not to mention, bees love and need flowering desert plants! Grass doesn’t need to be replaced solely with rocks and cacti. In fact, there are great examples throughout our valley of lush desert landscaping that is as beautiful as it is practical for our climate (and our dogs). By the way, if you’re looking for inspiration, visit the Springs Preserve or check out our list of recommended plants.
If the drought is that serious, why not limit growth and new development?
SNWA is responsible for ensuring our community’s water needs are met. To do this, we maintain a 50-year water resource plan that accounts for population projections and pairs the necessary resources to meet water demands over the next half-century. While Southern Nevada has a limited water supply from the Colorado River, we use it very efficiently by recycling and safely returning all indoor water use back to Lake Mead. Every gallon returned allows us to take another gallon out of the lake, treating it to safe drinking water standards. So, indoor water use has little to no impact on the amount of water our community depletes from the lake.
Water used outdoors is only used once, and not returned to Lake Mead. Reducing outdoor water use provides the greatest water savings. Replacing nonfunctional grass with drip-irrigated desert plants saves water without affecting our community’s quality of life.
What about golf courses?
It is a common misperception that golf courses (along with resorts) use large amounts of the community’s water, primarily due to the high visibility of these sectors. In reality, golf courses use less than 6 percent of our area’s water, compared to more than 60 percent used by residents.
Several important actions have been taken to reduce golf course water use over the past two decades. First, every course in Southern Nevada is subject to strict water budgets, and high penalties are levied for exceeding them—up to nine times the top-tier water rate.
Many local golf courses have participated in the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s program for converting grass to desert landscape, even using GPS-equipped golf balls to determine areas of courses that never saw play and could be removed. A major strategy used by golf courses to manage their water use is removing turf from non-playing areas outside the fairways and on driving ranges. A water savings of 55 gallons per square foot is realized for areas converted from turfgrass to drip-irrigated desert landscapes. Since 1999, 30 local golf courses have removed more than 900 acres of grass.
What about resorts?
Resorts consume less than 5 percent of our community’s water supply – that’s the water that is only used once and not recycled. In addition, new resorts are required to submit water efficiency plans to encourage efficient water management practices. Viewed from the state level, the resort sector uses less than one-tenth of one percent of Nevada's water supply, while employing about 16 percent of the state's workforce.
Why do other states like California and Arizona get to use more water from Lake Mead and the Colorado River than Nevada does?
In 1922, the seven states that share the Colorado River signed the Colorado River Compact, which apportions water from the river to the states. The compact was established almost a century ago, when Nevada had a very small population, and renegotiating this agreement would likely result in protracted litigation. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is pursuing more timely partnerships with these seven states designed to ensure cooperation, prevent litigation and ensure efficient use of Colorado River water.
For example, the SNWA is exploring a partnership with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in which the Authority would invest in a large-scale water recycling program. In return, SNWA would be able to access additional water supplies of California’s share of the Colorado River.
Other conservation restrictions
Vehicle and surface washing
Water restrictions limit the washing of vehicles and prohibit or restrict surface building and equipment washing.
Personal vehicles may be washed at residential properties once a week per vehicle and requires a positive shut-off nozzle on the garden hose. There is no limitation on how often you can wash your vehicle if the guidelines for commercial vehicles are followed or a high-pressure, low-volume sprayer is used.
Commercial vehicle washing is prohibited except where water is captured to a sanitary sewer through approved methods or where a high-pressure, low-volume sprayer using less than 10 gallons per vehicle is used.
Mobile car washing is allowed if the company uses a high-pressure, low-volume sprayer and less than 10 gallons of water per vehicle. We also recommend you use a Water Smart Car Wash.
Surface, building, and equipment washing
The washing of surfaces, buildings and equipment is prohibited unless water is discharged to a sanitary sewer through approved methods or contained on site. This includes surface washing by restaurants and fast food chains.
Fountains and water features
All fountains and water features using water provided by an SNWA member agency are subject to the water restrictions below. This includes the use of water that has been recycled or reprocessed by the customer.
Single-family residences can have fountains and water features with a surface area of less than 10 square feet.
New fountains and water features are prohibited for commercial use, with the following exemptions:
- Fountains and water features supplied by privately-owned water rights
- Indoor water features or features with most the total water volume contained indoors or underground
- Recreational water parks, both public and private
- Fountains or water features necessary to sustain aquatic animals, if such animals are of significant value and have been actively managed within the water feature prior to declaration of drought
Residential mist systems are allowed under water restrictions, but each jurisdiction has regulations limiting commercial use to certain months and times of day. Contact your local water provider for specific information.
Golf courses are subject to annual water budgets with appropriate surcharges applied to any water used over the budgeted amounts. Surcharges are assessed on an annual basis and are in addition to the price paid for water. Courses that go over their water budget have significant financial penalties assessed to the excess water use. In January 2023, the Las Vegas Valley Water District approved a reduction in golf course water budgets from 6.3 acre-feet of water per acre annually to 4 acre-feet effective in 2024. The other SNWA member agencies will also enact this change for golf courses in their service areas.
Golf courses are water-budgeted based upon acre-feet of water (including potable, raw, reclaimed and recycled water) for each acre currently being irrigated. The irrigated acreage includes lakes and ponds existing within a golf course and lakes and ponds serving, in total or in part, as a golf course irrigation reservoir. Once measured, the irrigated acreage shall remain fixed, thus creating incentive for golf courses to convert unneeded turf to other styles of water-efficient landscaping. If a golf course expands its course by increasing the number of playing holes, a new irrigated acreage will be determined.
Most government jurisdictions in the Las Vegas Valley have laws that prevent a homeowners' association (HOA) from restricting the installation of a water-saving landscape. An HOA may require homeowners to submit landscape design plans for approval; however, the HOA cannot require a homeowner to install grass nor can it prohibit water-efficient landscapes. An HOA may restrict the use of some types of landscape materials, such as artificial turf. To avoid problems, review all appropriate HOA policies that may apply to your new landscaping project before proceeding.
Note: Restrictions may vary based on individual jurisdictions. Contact your local water provider for specific information.
Water waste ordinances
- Chapter 24.30—Waste of water from public water system
- Chapter 24.34—Water use restrictions
- Title 30—Comprehensive Development Code
City of Henderson
City of Las Vegas
- Section 14.08—Water Regulations
- Section 14.08.040—Waste of Water Designated
- Section 14.11 Drought Plan
- Las Vegas Valley Water District Service Rules