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Not on my turf

In early April, the City Council heard a presentation by Lage Design about staff’s recommended option to remove 35% of the turf at the Boulder City Municipal Golf Course.

Two weeks later, residents attended a town hall meeting at the clubhouse where many felt their concerns and objections weren’t being heard. Although Council hasn’t officially approved this option or its final design, many left feeling like it’s already a done deal, with staff just going through the motions in mock public outreach efforts.

Why even consider removing so much turf? Well, in 2021, Governor Sisolak signed AB356, the Legislature’s mandate to remove all nonfunctional turf by the end of 2026 and making it illegal thereafter to irrigate nonfunctional grass with Colorado River water. That mandate followed a 20-plus year drought that saw Lake Mead drop over 170 feet and resulted in the first-ever emergency shortage declaration by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for the lower Colorado River Basin.

Even though we’ve had a few relatively wet years since 2021, nobody in their right mind questions the drought or the dire straits we could be facing if it continues. In furtherance of the shortage declaration, the federal government reduced Southern Nevada’s river water allocation by billions of gallons annually, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) began further incentivizing municipalities like Boulder City to contribute their fair share to conservation efforts.

In August 2022, the City Council adopted ordinance changes designed to increase water conservation, including limiting the size of new swimming pools, restricting man-made lakes and water features, imposing potential penalties against non-compliant water wasters, upgrading efficiency of the city’s irrigation systems, and removing grass from city parks and golf courses.

At that point, however, Council only approved removal of 16.5 acres of grass at the Muni Course. Now the recommendation is to remove three times that much, a whopping 46.5 acres or over 2 million square feet of turf.

AB356’s definition of nonfunctional turf referred largely to grass within 10 feet of streets and decorative turf around non-residential buildings. But the grass being slated for removal from the Muni Course is just the opposite–right next to residential homes and mostly far away from streets. And it’s not just a 5- or 10-foot buffer to keep water off the residential walls that’s being recommended by staff. In some locations, the swaths of desert and xeriscape that will be left where cool turf once was are dozens if not scores of feet wide.

The million or two in rebates from SNWA is a nice incentive to remove turf. But in the big picture, that won’t make a dent in the city’s coffers. And what is the city spending that rebate money on anyway?

More to the point, though, it seems like we’re not being very wise in our selection of nonfunctional turf to remove. In fact, in the case of the proposed Muni Course turf removal plan, it’s highly questionable whether that turf even meets the law’s definition of “nonfunctional.” Instead of doing the extra work required to identify and remove truly nonfunctional turf found in pockets around the city, it feels like we’re just taking the easy way out by removing golf course turf because there’s so much of it in one location. And in the process, destroying the cooler micro-climate that made the lots around the golf course such an attractive location to build and live on in the first place.

Apparently, there are at least two other options for removal of golf course turf that never made their way to the City Council, much less to We the People of Boulder City. Why haven’t we seen those? And why not have some real listening to and dialogue with the golf course residents who will be impacted most before the city plunges forward with a project that will ultimately be irreversible and irreparable?

There’s also a largely unnoticed aspect of the golf course turf removal project that I’m astonished nobody is talking about. Specifically, the turf removal project also includes replacement of the golf course’s irrigation system. So does that mean the city is now forever abandoning the prospect of directly reusing our treated wastewater as a source for irrigating the Muni Course? If we really want to conserve water, then how about the wasted 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of raw water that flows into Boulder City’s desert every day? That’s a project that SNWA was recently willing to give Boulder City $26 million to accomplish. But if we’re re-doing the golf course’s irrigation system now, then it seems like we’ve given up on the wastewater re-use option. And worse yet, it seems like the City Council might be doing that unknowingly because staff is glossing over rather than raising the issue.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for water conservation. But Nevada isn’t the problem, domestic water use isn’t the problem, and golf courses and resorts aren’t the problem either. Our state amounts to nothing more than a statistical rounding error in the river-wide problem, and absolutely nothing Nevadans do to better conserve or recycle is going to change that. Even if we completely wiped out the residential populations of Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico, for instance, drying up millions of acres of turf and water features in the process, the lake would still be dropping.

So, let’s get real when it comes to turf removal and be sensible about it. Some scaled-back version of the golf course turf removal project might make sense. But the city should take a deep breath, call a timeout, and fully vet the options before moving forward. For any of my fellow citizens who feel like I do, I’m told by at least one staff member that it’s not too late. One thing you can do to make your voice heard is take the survey found on the city’s website at https://www.bcnv.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=410. More importantly, though, you should contact City Council and staff members directly (https://www.bcnv.org/159/City-Council) to insist that appropriate processes be followed so that everyone has an opportunity to understand the issues, ask hard questions, have our voices heard, and make a final decision with all of the relevant information at our disposal.

Hurry, though. Final design and construction documents are already in the works, with a request for bids scheduled later this year and commencement of construction early next year. So, if you wait much longer, your opportunity will forever be lost.

Rod Woodbury has resided in Boulder City for more than 40 years and is a partner in the firm Woodbury Law. He served on the City Council from 2011- 2019, including four years as mayor.

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