This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake—and what can be done to make a difference before it is too late. Read all of our stories at greatsaltlakenews.org.
John and Diane Whittaker’s lawn wasn’t looking so great.
“Our lawn was on life support,” John Whittaker said. “We were debating back and forth to go zero or whatever it’s called, or sod, or try this.”
They installed “SLC Turf Trade,” a special blend of grass seed being offered by Salt Lake City Public Utilities that uses up to 40% less water. They installed it in April and it still looks green.
“It looks great! We’re happy,” John said.
“Very happy with the way it looks,” added Diane. “It’s just so green and pretty and fine. Yeah, we couldn’t be happier with it.”
Salt Lake City Public Utilities partnered with Utah State University’s Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping and the Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance to come up with the special blend of tall fescue and low-water Kentucky Bluegrass. You don’t have to remove your lawn to plant it, just kill the grass, mow it low and seed, said Stephanie Duer, Salt Lake City’s conservation manager.
“It’s been very successful,” Duer said. “We brought in about three times as much grass seed this year than we did last year, and we sold out in 24 hours.”
Other cities and local water districts have also started to offer it. Provo told Fox 13 News it sold out quickly and, like Salt Lake City, now has a waitlist for customers. Ogden and the Granger-Hunter Improvement District also ran out. The good news is retailers have started to sell it.
“If you think about the environment and the Great Salt Lake and water conservation or just water in general? Folks who think about those things want to do the right thing. They just don’t necessarily know what that looks like and how to achieve it,” Duer said.
Dr. Kopp, who heads USU’s Center for Water-Efficient Landscaping and helped design SLC Turf Trade, said lawn is not the enemy, but people need to think about what they use it for. “Nonfunctional turf” is lawn that isn’t really used.
“People want to do the right thing but they also want to have some lawn,” she told Fox 13 News. “They want lawn for their kids to play on, they want lawn for their pets. This is a way for them to have both. They can have the best of both worlds and still help the state in meeting its water conservation goals.”
The Turfgrass Water Conservation Alliance said about 1,000 households have installed the grass across Utah with more coming. Communities in and around Utah are contacting USU and TWCA to try to offer their own drought-tolerant grass blends.
SLC Turf Trade is specially formulated for this area along the Wasatch Front. Other communities, particularly in southern Utah, will likely need their own blends because of their climate conditions, Dr. Kopp said.
“Our hope is that we can find drought-tolerant turf grasses across all of the species,” said Jack Karlin, TWCA’s executive director.
While other communities may want some of their own to sell, TWCA also can point people to existing grass blends that can save people water and money. It can also help cut water demand in the Great Salt Lake Basin, which is struggling with drought and the shrinking lake.
“TWCA drought-qualified turfgrass is not a silver bullet,” Karlin cautioned. “This is only one component of a larger conservation program. But yes, I think if used extensively and appropriately, it can be a benefit for the Great Salt Lake.”
The Whittakers said their neighborhood is watching their lawn to see how it turns out.
“We have a lot of neighbors that are using us as their test case. They’re waiting to see if it works out for us they’re going to do it too,” Diane Whittaker said.