Bill limiting future municipal grass usage reaches Utah Senate

The 2024 General Session of the Utah State Legislature began Jan. 16 and will end March 1. If House Bill 11 passes both the House and Senate, and is signed by Governor Cox, it will go into effect May 1. (Ethan Pack)

A bill limiting the amount of non-functional grass used for state and municipal landscaping has passed the Utah House and is now being debated in the Senate.

Rep. Doug Owens sponsored the bill, titled H.B. 11 Water Efficient Landscaping Requirements. The bill would affect new state and local government landscaping in the Great Salt Lake Basin, Owens said in a House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee hearing on Jan. 18.

“It would apply up and down the line to government construction: everything from a state building to a county building to a city building to a school and to a road,” Owens said.

The bill states the limit on non-functional turf would be 20% or less of the total landscaped area. It would not affect active turf, like is used at parks, playgrounds and cemeteries, Owens said.

“You can still have all the functional turf you want … but you’re supposed to limit the use, this bill says, if you’re just doing landscape for aesthetic purposes,” he said.

The bill passed several House and Senate meetings in 2022, but failed in the Senate on the last day, according to Owens. The bill’s scope was much wider but was narrowed to the Great Salt Lake Basin this year.

“I know I’m preaching a little to the choir here, but we know conservation is critical to Utah’s water future,” Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said at the House committee hearing. “How we grow matters and changing how we grow to be more waterwise and use our water efficiently is super important.”

Hasenyager later said roughly 60% of home water usage in Utah goes towards watering lawns. Setting a limit to how much lawn can be used in government landscaping sets an example of water-wise development for the rest of the state, she said.

Citizens and lobbyists at both the House committee meeting and the Senate Business and Labor Committee meeting shared their support or opposition to H.B.11. The Utah Farm Bureau’s House of Delegates debated about and voted on several policies relating to water use for turfgrass at their most recent meeting, according to Terry Camp, vice president of Public Policy with the Federation. 

“Consistent with our policies, Utah Farm Bureau actively supports efforts among all stakeholders to enhance Great Salt Lake. We support marketing and wise use of drought and heat-tolerant varieties of turfgrass and other ornamental plants, and we oppose limits on the use of turfgrass and other ornamental plants in public or private spaces,” Camp said at the Utah Senate hearing.

The bill has been read twice in the Utah Senate and was voted on Feb. 1 to be read a third time. If passed in the Senate, H.B. 11 would go into effect on May 1.

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