Here’s what Salt Lake County wants to do to save 5 million gallons of water every year

Officials say the proposal will help them exceed self-imposed conservation goals.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Spinning sprinkler in Salt Lake City in June 2021. Salt Lake County plans to remove grass at park strips and parking lot islands to save water.

Salt Lake County wants to save millions of gallons of water annually by swapping out some of its useless grass for less-thirsty landscaping.

Unveiled at the County Council meeting Tuesday, a new proposal calls for converting 132 county-owned park strips and parking lot islands from turf to water-smart plants that require less irrigation and maintenance.

The plan comes as Utah grapples with a dwindling water supply, and the West braces for a drier future.

Mayor Jenny Wilson, who was not at the meeting, said in a statement that the county’s swelling population already spawned a need for conservation, but the ongoing drought has increased the collective sense of urgency to pursue water-saving measures.

“This is one of many long-lasting conservation solutions,” she said, “that will help protect our residents’ quality of life, our watershed, and the future of the Great Salt Lake.”

On average, park strips and parking lot islands consume 5,000 to 8,000 gallons of water a year, Michael Shea, the county’s environmental sustainability director, told council members.

“One of the reasons we’re looking at them,” he said, “is, of course, they’re huge water hogs.”

And for the areas the county is looking at converting, he said, those consumption figures are on the low end.

The county wants to tap $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to get the job done. Because the proposal addresses water conservation, it is an eligible use of money from the pot of federal funding that was passed to help the country rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council member Arlyn Bradshaw expressed approval of the plan during the meeting, saying the county should take advantage of the federal funding.

“It’s the county walking the walk,” he said, “of what we encourage residents to do.”

The proposal targets areas across 39 county-owned facilities and is expected to save more than 5 million gallons of water each year, helping the county exceed its self-imposed conservation goals.

It also calls for more efficient watering at the County Government Center, 2001 S. State.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, lauded the initiative, saying he hopes to see other municipalities follow the county’s lead.

“This is great leadership,” he said. “Permanently getting rid of parking strip grass is good for taxpayers and the Great Salt Lake.”

An official proposal is expected to go before the council for a vote next month.

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