Turf war: Las Vegas ditches grass as drought worsens

STORY: Las Vegas is a city where many things are not real – from its fake Elvis Presleys to its phony Eiffel Tower -- and now its grass won’t be any different.

Decades-long drought made worse by climate change has forced the city rip up millions of square feet of grass, including greenery along its iconic Vegas strip, and replace much of it with artificial turf.

[Carlos Rodriguez, artificial lawn installer]: “We've done installs at the Bellagio, at the Golden Nugget, at the Caesars Palace here on the Las Vegas Boulevard Strip. We've also done, like by the Las Vegas welcome sign.”

Installer Carlos Rodriguez explains that instead of planting the green stuff, he hammers it in.

“So basically, we're driving six inch nails on the perimeter of the turf. So that way it holds it down.”

It’s all in the name of saving water, as Nevada is among the states that gets its water from nearby Lake Mead – whose levels have dropped to an all-time low.

That in turn has made growing some grasses in Nevada actually illegal.

Bronson Mack is with the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“Last year, the Nevada legislature passed a law that now prohibits the irrigation of nonfunctional grass: grass that provides no recreational value and is only decorative. They passed a law that requires that that grass be completely removed by the end of 2026.”

Mack told Reuters the new law will apply to businesses and apartment complexes with grass that is considered nonfunctional.

At the moment, the law is not applicable to existing private homes, but new houses are not allowed to feature real grass. Desert-friendly plants that use little water are also a suitable substitute.

[Bronson Mack]: “The reality is, is that grass uses the equivalent of 73 gallons of water a year per square foot. That's enough water to put where we are completely underwater by ten feet.”

Some private homeowners are replacing their lawns voluntarily, like Linda Laird, who has lived in Las Vegas since 1985 and says she’s watched with horror as water levels in Lake Mead have plunged.

“I feel like if I can do my small little part to helping conserve some of our water here in Las Vegas, that I'm doing a small part to help everyone else.”

Those in the artificial grass business are also quick to point out that what’s used today is often a world apart from the astroturf and green outdoor carpet of years gone by – for while it may be fake, much of it is made with plant-based materials.