Tucson Outlaws Lawns, Reduces Water Flow In New Constructions

June 28, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Earlier this month, Tucson outlawed lawns and reduced water flow in new constructions.

The Tucson City Council approved the changes through two action items presented during a regular meeting. Both measures were proposed to increase water conservation.

The lawn ban, Ordinance 12005, targets “ornamental turf” — that is, grass intended only for aesthetic, not functional or practical purposes. Functional turf would be considered grassy areas such as school playgrounds, parks, sports fields, dog parks, or golf courses. Other drought-hit states like California have imposed similar bans on ornamental turf. In 2021, Nevada became the first state to ban ornamental turf, which goes into effect in 2027. 

The council explained in a public statement that they originally wanted to ban ornamental turf in new developments only. However, stakeholders and the public expressed concern that the ban wouldn’t result in meaningful water conservation since new developments already have minimal allowance for ornamental turf. 

Tom Prezelski with Rural Arizona Action spoke in favor of the issue. Prezelski was formerly a state representative, tribal planner for the Tohono O’odham Nation and Pascua Yaqui Tribe, coordinator for the Stop Corruption Now Arizona campaign, quality control specialist with CHISPA, and coordinator with the Arizona Democratic Party. 

The water flow reduction, Ordinance 12009, requires new constructions to use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense certified fixtures. WaterSense, a voluntary EPA partnership, products and services use at least 20 percent less water, seeking to cut into the national average of 82 gallons used by Americans daily at home. 

WaterSense began through talks in 2004 with stakeholders prior to launching in 2006 in San Antonio, Texas at the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference & Exposition. 

The city approved the ordinance unanimously; no citizens issued public comment on the subject.

Councilman Steve Kozachik asked whether there would be leeway for builders who run into supply chain issues — something that has plagued the country throughout the last few years. City officials said that builders could apply for a waiver through their building official.

Watch the council discussion of the two water conservation items here:

Tucson, along with the city of Phoenix and the state, also traded away its Colorado River water rights in exchange for federal infrastructure funding. The city received $44 million for the deal; Phoenix received $60 million.

The funds come from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Those two laws set aside a combined $15.4 billion to combat drought. 

Gov. Katie Hobbs forfeited three million acre-feet of Colorado River water rights over the next three years. That plan, the Lower Basin Plan, equates to $1.2 billion in federal funding altogether. Hobbs splits the funding with the two governors who signed onto the plan: California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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