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UNLV ripping out grass to save water, money

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 4:41 a.m. HST, Jan 31, 2011

LAS VEGAS — The University of Nevada, Las Vegas has begun to reap benefits from a program to replace grass with desert plants, said campus officials.

UNLV Solid Waste and Recycling Manager Tara Pike said she first sowed the seeds of current efforts when she began campaigning as a student two decades ago to rip up turf to save water. Now she oversees a program that has led to the removal of a million square feet of grass from the 332-acre campus.

Robert Lynn, university facilities manager for landscaping and grounds, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that at least that much turf remains — "at minimum."

Plans call for leaving grass only on the athletic fields and, maybe, the academic mall gathering spot near the Student Union.

Lynn, who has been at UNLV since 1985, said the turf-reduction program started in 1986 but grew after the Southern Nevada Water Authority started offering money to people and businesses that ripped out their lawns a few years ago.

Watering the grass with aboveground sprinklers uses significantly more water than watering desert-friendly plants with an underground drip system, Lynn said.

He said the program is saving the university 55 million gallons of water a year, and more than $100,000 a year in water bills.

In 2009, when Lynn removed more than 200,000 square-feet of grass, two projects on campus took first and second place in the SNWA Landscape Awards competition. Lynn was later named university employee of the year.

Lynn said budget cuts since then have slowed turf-removal efforts.

The university has entered a national contest sponsored by Rain Bird, the irrigation company, with hopes to win $10,000. Winners have included a botanical garden in Florida, a golf course in Kentucky and a garden in California.

The UNLV project is the only one from Nevada. It would expand on an existing project and remove 25,000 more square feet of grass from an area called the Learning Garden, near the Carlson Education Building.

That would save another million gallons of water a year.

Whether UNLV wins or not, the project will eventually get done, Lynn said.

"I can see almost all the grass on campus gone one day," he said.

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