SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that limits the use of "nonfunctional turf" for new government construction within the Great Salt Lake Basin passed through a Utah House natural resources committee Thursday, but not without some opposition.

HB11, sponsored by Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, would limit the amount of grass that is not used for "active recreation" to a maximum of 20% of the landscaped area of a new "local entity property" that is constructed or reconstructed on or after May 1. Members of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee voted 12-0 Thursday to forward it out for a full House vote.

Owens told members of the committee that it would apply to state, county and municipal government properties, including schools and roads. Candice Hasenyager, the director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, clarified that it's similar to a law already in place for state buildings, but the standard would be extended to other levels of government.

The bill would specifically target grass that's used in areas like parking strips, medians and roundabouts. It wouldn't apply to social gathering areas, amphitheaters, parks or any golf course playing areas, which are considered active uses, according to the bill.

"You can still have all the functional turf you want. You can still have parks and playgrounds and cemeteries, but you're supposed to limit the use, this bill says, if you're just doing landscape for aesthetic purposes," Owens explained during the meeting. "The idea isn't to turn us into Las Vegas with rock landscaping, but to encourage the use of trees and shrubs for that green and urban cooling effect — because you get more bang for the buck than you do with turf."

He called it a revamped version of a bill that cleared the House of Representatives and two legislative committees last year but failed in the Utah Senate with an 18-9 vote on the last day of the 2023 general session. The biggest change, according to the representative, is that it now only targets the Great Salt Lake Basin instead of the entire state.

The basin is defined in the bill as within the meander line of the Great Salt Lake, or the drainage areas of the Bear River or the Bear River's tributaries, Bear Lake or Bear Lake's tributaries, Weber River or the Weber River's tributaries, Jordan River or the Jordan River's tributaries, or Utah Lake or Utah Lake's tributaries, as well as the Tooele Valley and water drainages between the Bear River and the Jordan River that are tributaries to the Great Salt Lake.

The bill, Owens explained, would be more of an effort to inspire water behavior changes than drastically help the lake. He added it may also help the state's chances of receiving federal funds tied to drought relief. Great Salt Lake Deputy Commissioner Tim Davis and Hasenyager both supported the bill, noting that any water conservation mindset helps in Utah's "resiliency to drought."

"How we grow matters, and changing how we grow to be more water-wise and using our water more efficiently matters," Hasenyager said.

However, a few people spoke out against the bill during the meeting, voicing concerns that it would be expanded to residents in the future, or that it could potentially add to heating concerns in urban areas. They argued that it may be better to promote ways to reduce the watering of grass during drought than to remove it altogether.

"If we're ripping out turf, especially in our homes, that we don't have agriculture means, basically, to plant our own gardens and food. I'm worried that this kind of is opening a door to continue to amend this language to enforce this on the public," one resident said.

Salt Lake City resident Kael Weston, a former congressional candidate, countered by saying he believes it can be a motivator for residents to make decisions on their own.

"It set the right precedent for people who are voluntarily choosing to do the right thing," he said about water consumption.

The Utah League of Cities and Towns officially said it is "neutral" on the matter. Members of the committee supported the measure, especially because they say it's narrowly focused. Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, said he wouldn't support the bill if it was for "everybody," but the proposal as is "strikes a right balance."

"I think there's value in having this bill," he said. "I would rather see water on farms, like what's been indicated, rather than water on city strips around parks that I, as a taxpayer, have to pay for, which have compounding negative consequences."

The bill must be passed by both the Utah House of Representatives and Senate by March 1 before it can be signed into law.

KSL Reporter
Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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