Tucson Outlaws Lawns, Reduces Water Flow In New Constructions

Tucson Outlaws Lawns, Reduces Water Flow In New Constructions

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.

Tucson City Council To Increase Water Rates To Incentivize Water Conservation

Tucson City Council To Increase Water Rates To Incentivize Water Conservation

By Corinne Murdock |

The Tucson City Council began the process for increasing residents’ water rates in order to incentivize greater water conservation. The council motioned in a study session on Tuesday to increase rates by reclassifying winter months, which have lower rates, into summer months. 

A customer’s water usage over the winter months determines the Average Winter Consumption (AWC), which is charged at a year-round base rate; in the summer months, water usage between 101 to 145 percent of AWC is billed at a higher rate, and over 145 percent at an even higher rate.

The rate increase comes at the behest of the water efficiency and conservation program goals outlined in the city’s Natural Environment Plan. On Tuesday, the city approved Options 1A and 1B to restructure water rates. Those options direct city staff to proceed with the rate adoption process, commence a notice of public intent with a 60-day public outreach and communication hearing prior to a public hearing and rate adoption.

Councilman Kevin Dahl said the water crisis defined by PFAs in the water supply and the Colorado Water River drought necessitated the restructuring of rates. Dahl also claimed that the rate restructure would create equitable change, noting that wealthier entities like homeowners associations and golf courses pay lower water rates while larger families and garden owners pay more. 

Rather than allow the traditional policy process, which would take four or five months per proposed change, Dahl moved to expedite both options together rather than separately. The council adopted his motion. 

“We need to have a quick start on this,” said Dahl.

The 1A option changes winter months from the current definition of six months to three months. The 1B option then adds on another tier, greater than 145 percent, to the block structure. City staff explained that 1A allows the commercial and industrial class to get used to the three-month winter quarter average for several years, then follow up to determine conservation effectiveness. 

Councilman Paul Cunningham said that he appreciated the notice of public intent and hearing, sharing that it alleviated his concerns that residents would experience “sticker shock” over the hike in water rates.

“This is the direction we’re going. We might as well be transparent about it,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham voiced concern over the possibility of specialized rates for different businesses. He also brought up a desire to establish conservation-compliant water parks in the city, noting that they lose residents in the summer to the water parks housed in surrounding cities and states. 

“Water, like it or not, is becoming a commodity and is becoming a quantifiable and limited resource,” said Cunningham. 

Mayor Regina Romero called the city’s water situation “bleak.” Vice Mayor Steve Kozachik concurred. 

“Our goal is to send a strong conservation signal,” said Kozachik. 

Tucson hasn’t been the only city to hike its water rates for conservation’s sake. The city of Phoenix proposed increasing water rates over the next year by a minimum of 25 percent.

Watch the city council discussion of the water rates here:

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