LDS Church highlights efforts to cut water use, invites others to do the same

Acknowledging the West’s crippling drought, the Utah-based faith is looking at permanent changes to its landscapes like native plants and improved water management practices.

Properties owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, long known for their lush landscapes in arid Utah, are getting an overhaul.

In a news release issued Wednesday, the Salt Lake City-based faith acknowledged the unprecedented drought gripping the West. As a response, the church noted it is working to reduce water consumption in all its buildings and facilities in the region, including outdoor irrigating.

“Watering of lawns and landscapes at temples, meetinghouses and other buildings is being reduced. In some cases, [the] landscape will be permitted to brown and become dormant,” the release said. “... Planning is underway to identify landscape changes that will permanently reduce water use.”

Church properties have incorporated water-wise sprinklers and low-flow plumbing fixtures at properties built since 2000, the release noted, and others have since been retrofitted. The church also is taking steps to install smart controllers, drip systems, rain sensors and to explore “use of secondary or reclaimed water.”

“Additionally, we have adjusted watering schedules to meet local government guidelines,” the statement said, “and we continue to monitor the conditions of all of church properties.”

The U.S.-born faith is one of the largest private landholders in Utah and the nation. It highlighted similar efforts to cut back its water consumption last year, including removing a fountain at Temple Square and replacing it with a display of world flags.

But the church has frequently been called out for its conspicuously verdant turf and vegetation, including in YouTube videos and letters to The Salt Lake Tribune, even as cities have cracked down on overwatering in recent years.

Moving forward, the church is further exploring more lasting changes to its landscapes, the release stated. “These include more native plants, low-utility lawns and water management practices.”

The release further explains that the church has already reduced water use by a third at “historic sites” in regions impacted by drought, although it did not cite any examples. It also did not quantify or offer figures for conservation efforts at other properties or its future water reduction goals.

“We all play a part in preserving the critical resources needed to sustain life — especially water — and we invite others to join us in reducing water use wherever possible,” the release said. “We gladly join with friends of other faiths in prayer to our Heavenly Father for rain and respite from the devastating drought.”

The global faith’s 16.8 million members “live in a variety of environmental circumstances,” the release added. “In one area, there may be serious drought, while, in another, wet conditions can cause significant flooding.”

Either way, church leaders teach members that “we have a responsibility to care for and gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting resources and wisely use the bounty of the earth to care for one another.”

In 2017, apostle Dallin H. Oaks, now first counselor in the governing First Presidency and next in line to lead the church, pointed to “big worries,” including climate change.

“Seacoast cities are concerned with the rising level of the ocean, which will bring ocean tides to their doorsteps or over their thresholds,” he told graduates at church-owned Brigham Young University-Hawaii. “Global warming is also affecting agriculture and wildlife.”