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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Scientists Say ‘Localscapes’ Are One Way To Cut Down On Outdoor Water Use

A photo of a Desert Color housing structure.
Lexi Peery
Desert Color is a 3,400 acre planned development just south of St. George. All landscapes there are localscapes, which means they’re designed to be water efficient.

Utah is in the midst of its worst drought since the 1950s. Now, state and local leaders are calling on people to conserve water. Some homeowners and developers have turned to “localscapes” to do so.

Localscaping means designing yards or lawns to be more water efficient through using native plants and grasses. Ryan White is with the Washington County Water Conservancy District and is the manager of the Red Hills Desert Garden, where he teaches people about conservation and about desert-adapted plants.

“Like other Western communities, the landscape tends to be one of the highest water users and [the] lawn uses more than most other plants,” White said. “While we're not telling people they have to eliminate all lawn — lawn does have a place — we want them to use it in a more functional space where it's condensed and we're not just throwing water all over the landscape frivolously.”

One community that has embraced this kind of landscaping is Desert Color. It’s being built on acres of desert south of St. George and is the first planned development to be localscape certified in the state.

Driving around the neighborhoods Ryan Coates, marketing manager of the development, pointed to small pockets of grass with desert shrubs and plants mixed throughout. He said localscapes are a way to maintain the beauty people move to the area for.

“You don't have to have grass to make it beautiful,” Coates said. “There's still the color contours, like there's all the different aspects that really make the house still have an attractive curb appeal.”

Kelly Kopp, a professor of plants, soils and climate at Utah State University, said localscapes are great for water conservation, but people shouldn’t start redesigning their yards right now.

“Wait to make big changes until [drought conditions are better,]” she said, “because any time you're establishing a new landscape, whether it's a localscape or something else, it's going to take more water.”

Kopp said this won’t solve Utah’s water shortages right now, but can be part of a long-term solution for the state.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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