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LAS VEGAS-The Southern Nevada Water Authority has sweetened the pot for its Water Smart Landscapes program, which gives rebates for residential and commercial developments that replace grass with water-efficient landscaping. The changes take effect Jan. 1.

The new program offers a rebate of $1.50 for each sf of grass they replace with water-efficient landscaping, no matter the size of their conversion. In 2007, the program offered $2 per sf of turf converted, up to 1,500 sf, and $1 for each additional sf. Based on the average conversion of 12,000 sf, the enhanced program would generate a 33% larger rebate.

SNWA conservation manager Doug Bennett says the new program is designed to sustain appeal for small projects while dramatically increasing the appeal for large projects. “We expect that this structure will actually boost total square footage in 2008 even beyond our 2007 conversion totals,” he says.

The SNWA board of directors approved the new incentive levels earlier this month. Thanks in part to its program the SNWA says 18 billion fewer gallons of water were used in 2006 than in 2002, despite the addition of 330,000 new residents and roughly 40 million annual visitors during that span.

To date this year more than 19.5 million sf of grass has been converted to water-efficient landscaping–the second-highest annual total since the program’s launch in 1999 and more than twice the 2006 total. The program reached its peak in 2004, when residents and businesses converted more than 34 million sf of grass. More than 96 million sf of grass has been converted since the program’s inception.

The SNWA estimates that every sf of grass replaced with water-smart trees, shrubs and flowers saves an average of 55 gallons of water per year. To qualify for the rebate, the grass to be converted must use water from an SNWA water agency or groundwater well within the Las Vegas Valley Groundwater Basin. As well, an application must be submitted to SNWA and approved before any work begins. The SNWA’s program coordinator for commercial conversions was not immediately available Thursday for additional comment.

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