EDITORIAL: Ridiculous water rules

Mandates that homeowners waste water on lawns are out of step with the times


Courtesy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal
Published Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Bill Glazer wanted a fountain and swimming pool for his new Las Vegas home when he moved from California to Sun City Anthem. But his wife, Lee, convinced him that would not be appropriate in a water-starved desert.

So the Glazers did without the pool and fountain, and even went so far as to decorate their front yard with $3,000 worth of artificial plants -- including a pair of eight-foot artificial palms -- acquired from a specialty manufacturer in Cleveland.

Their homeowners association made the Glazers dig them up -- not allowed under the "neighborhood design guidelines," you see.

Kevin Peltier used to get warning letters from his Summerlin North Community Association about the brown spots in his front lawn. He thought he'd found the perfect solution when he spent $20,000 installing synthetic Kentucky bluegrass -- much lower maintenance costs, and his water bill dropped 40 percent.

Now, Mr. Peltier's community association is fining him $35 for every week he uses the lower amount of water -- "neighborhood rules" don't allow artificial grass in front yards, you see.

The old caveat applies, of course. People should inquire carefully about "association" rules and governance procedures before buying in a community with such deed covenants and restrictions.

But the total lack of sensitivity of many of these local homeowners' associations to the fact that Southern Nevada is in the midst of the worst drought in decades -- if not centuries -- makes this a much larger issue than squabbles about house-paint colors and whether the kids can have a portable basketball hoop.

Eldon Hardy, the state's ombudsman for such communities, says he's getting two to three calls a month concerning artificial plants and other water conservation issues. "It's a big problem, and it's going to get worse."

The water conservation message "isn't getting out there," agrees Shari Buck, a board member of the Las Vegas Valley Water Authority. "I don't know if that's our fault ... or if it's due to the (obstinacy) of the homeowners associations."

Yes, grass can look pretty. But rules that actually require residents to use precious water on essentially decorative features during a severe drought defeat market pressures, which would otherwise allow high water rates to encourage reductions in usage.

State Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, has introduced a bill draft that would, among other things, bar homeowners associations from restricting the use of artificial turf.

But action from the Legislature could still be a long, dry year away. In the meantime, these associations should see the handwriting on the wall -- or at least drive down and take a look at the level of Lake Mead.

The time to either amend these absurd and water-wasting rules -- or at least suspend such mandates for the drought-stricken future -- is now.