13 Investigates


Some of Las Vegas' biggest homeowner associations lead efforts to conserve water

Sun City Anthem, Summerlin aim to model the way
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Turf removal projects in varying stages at Sun City Anthem
Posted at 6:34 AM, Sep 28, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Las Vegas is in the midst of a triple whammy of water woes: Historic drought, looming federal restrictions and climate change.

The need to conserve is tremendous and that means changing our habits.

On Monday, 13 Investigates exposed the biggest water users so far this year.

Now, we're continuing our coverage with a focus on the proactive approach by people saving the most.

Enter Larry Fossan--a trained 'grass-assin' in Sun City Anthem. Fossan's real title is Facilities Maintenance Manager. That's not as cool, but his work is.

"We'll probably take out almost 100,000 total square feet of grass when we get everything said and done."

By replacing grass with flowering plants, shrubs and other drought-tolerant landscaping, Fossan has shown the massive HOA community in Henderson that saving water isn't rocket science and holds many benefits.

"One of the biggest things we've enjoyed is the color almost all year round. The residents are able to sit on the benches we have here and see butterflies and hummingbirds."

Nevada has no choice but to plan for a hotter, drier future with less Colorado river water feeding into Lake Mead--our primary water source.

So how do we continue to flourish with less water?

"Removing grass is just part of the puzzle," said Fossan. "It's plant management, it's smart controllers, it's watching humidity, watching shaded areas, knowing your landscape."

New Nevada law permanently bans use of Colorado river water on non-functional grass at commercial and multi-family properties like homeowner associations, apartments, condos and townhome complexes.

All will have to replace grass that surrounds parking lots, business parks, common areas and other spots not actively used for recreation.

The deadline is Dec. 31, 2026.

Sun City Anthem isn't waiting.

"I've been around the industry a long time," Fossan said. "I've never seen Mother Nature not fix anything and this time, she's not fixing it! So, our committee decided to move us through that very quickly."

They're on phase 9 of 13, a site that includes a little over 14,000 square feet of sod.

"We're removing that. That will give us water savings next year of about 700,000 gallons of water."

Anthem's next phase will be more than twice that with a project to remove 33,000 square feet of grass. And it's all planned out.

"We're being very sensitive to the ecosystem, the homeowners, the dog walkers. We want to do this responsibly and not just arbitrarily pull grass out of anywhere."

There is still a sea of grass at Sun City Anthem's outdoor amphitheater. Technically, most of it is functional because it's used for seating at outdoor events, but they are still planning to take out a large portion of that grass toward their water-saving goal.

The HOA started working on a xeriscape water-smart program in 2018.

"And by working in harmony with Mother Nature instead of fighting her, taking everything--the good, bad and the ugly that she's tossed at us--we as a community have saved over 30 million gallons of water."

That's about 90 acre-feet so far, "So, if you picture where we're standing right now and you look up, there are 90 feet of water above us."

By the end of this year, Fossan expects to save three times that amount.

Taking out turf doesn't have to be ugly or costly.

In fact, you can replace one green with another.

Anthem maintains a home-grown nursery, growing plants with cuttings from other plants already in their landscape.

Plus, saving water means saving money on maintenance and water bills for the Sun City Anthem homeowners.

"Our goal by 2022 is to lower our water bill by 40-percent," said Fossan. "The HOAs out there need to hop on board right away."

Homeowner associations are huge water users because they account for so many residents and include amenities like parks, streetscapes and common areas.

Across the valley, the Summerlin HOA is both a topwater user and a top saver.

"It is critically important for all of us--not just the homeowner associations and the developers, but all businesses and even residents--we all have to take water conservation very seriously," said Tom Warden, senior vice president of community and government relations for Summerlin at The Howard Hughes Corporation.

Summerlin has taken lists from all three of its master associations to identify turf removal projects.

"A big one for us was Summerlin Parkway. It is 98,000 square feet of turf. That is going to save 5 million gallons a year," Warden said.

They've also already replaced grass in roundabouts, medians, "And then from that, there's even a lower level where we're going into the parks," finding under-utilized grass areas and converting those to desert landscaping as well.

"We're not waiting. We want to get it done. And we want to be a role model to other master plans."

Warden admits it's come with challenges.

At one roundabout near North Tower Park, "I got notices right away from a number of residents, 'Hey, hey, hey! Put the grass back! What are you doing? We want grass! We don't want this desert landscaping!' And so, you have to educate people" about the colors, textures, beauty and benefits drought-tolerant plants provide.

Warden adds, "We saved 38 million gallons a year in Summerlin South just by changing out the controllers. These new controllers--they know exactly what the temperature is as well as humidity, wind and soil moisture, and as such, they can give those plants exactly what they need but save a lot of water."

If you're ready to start saving, the Southern Nevada Water Authority will pay you to do it.

SNWA's Water Smart Landscapes rebate program gives property owners a cash incentive of $3 per square foot of grass replaced with drip-irrigated landscaping.

Click here for information on rebates for businesses, HOA and multifamily properties.

Click here for single-family residential properties.

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