In Las Vegas, the biggest desert city in the U.S., and still one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, the local water utility is offering cash incentives to replace water-sucking lawns with drought-resistant landscapes.
 
If you've currently got a grass lawn in the Las Vegas area, the Southern Nevada Water Authority will pay homeowners and business owners alike $1.50 per square foot of lawn replaced with desert-friendly plants. That rate is good for the first 5,000 square feet, up to $7,500 in rebates; beyond that, the SNWA will pay $1 per square foot for the next 195,000 square feet of lawn ripped out, for a maximum of $300,000 per year in rebates.

It's part of a 10-year-old program called the Water Smart Landscapes Rebate program, and in that time more than 130 million square feet of lawns have been replaced with more native, less water-intensive plants. As a result, the city of Las Vegas has seen its water use drop by 18 percent, or 15 billion gallons per year, even as its population skyrocketed.
Image courtesy of the SWNA. Click for a full-sized image.
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In an article on GreenRightNow.com, Melissa Segrest explores how Las Vegas's pioneering effort is part of a growing trend from cities to encourage water conservation from the ground up.

Segrest writes:
Other cities in the dry southwest have implemented similar programs. Los Angeles’ Department of Water and Power started a program last month to pay single-family homeowners $1 for every square foot of grass they pull up and replace with drought-tolerant plants and permeable ground cover. The department will pay up to $2,000. Twenty-nine cities within California’s East Bay Municipal Utility District (including Alameda, Berkeley and Oakland) can get 50 cents for every square foot of grass they replace, up to $1,000 to single-family residences.

Cities in Arizona, Mesa and Chandler, for example, also give cash back to those who replace grass with low-water plants. Even though cash for grass programs are popping up in drought-ridden states across the country, they have a long way to go to match Las Vegas.
Image courtesy of the SWNA. Click for a full-sized image.
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In addition to the grass payback, Southern Nevada’s water authority instituted a water-saving car wash program, providing coupons to car washes that either recycle their own water or send it to a treatment facility for recycling. Residents can get money back for buying a swimming pool cover (without it, the authority says, 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water can evaporate from a pool).
Water use is becoming a huge concern for businesses and municipalities alike, although there are innovations aplenty in the works: A report released in May explored ways that companies in California -- currently in the midst of a long-term drought -- can use existing technologies to cut water use in half, and earlier this year we ran an in-depth report on how companies nationwide are saving significant amounts of water, and how you can start up a water management program at your company.

Sprinkler photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Shaylor.