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Park City moving forward with water wise incentive program

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Jeremy Levine
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A xeriscape is one water-wise landscaping solution. In Utah, xeriscapes often include native plants such Utah serviceberry, bitterroot, crimson columbine, and prairie sagewort.

Park City Municipal plans to roll out a pilot program this spring that will pay residents to remove grass from their yards.

The Park City Council offered its unwavering support for the new program, which would pay local residents and businesses $2 for every square foot of turf grass they remove and replace with landscaping that uses less water to maintain.

Waterwise landscaping is defined in the city’s code as the use of drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation that reduces the need for supplemental watering.

The city has budgeted $200,000 for the pilot, and could add another $200,000 in next year’s budget.

Single family homes can receive up to $10,000 in payment. Commercial, multi-family, and irrigation accounts max out at $50,000.

To qualify for the payments, at least half a property’s landscape must be vegetative in order to prevent what are called heat islands. Heat islands are structures and other urbanized areas - like sidewalks and parking lots - that absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes such as forests and water bodies.

The vegetative coverage requirement calls for plants that are both firewise and drought tolerant (identified in Park City code 14-1-5).

Park City Water Resources Manager Jason Christensen is spearheading the pilot.

He said he’s proud that the entire Park City community, including residents and businesses, has reduced water use by a third since 2020. But, Christensen said it’s important the city remains proactive in conserving. 

“Despite that good amount of water sitting up on the mountain, the future trends in Park City and the West as a whole continue to show a likely decrease in the amount of snow, an increase in winter rain that’s not stored up on the mountain, and a future that we need to plan for,” he said.

Christensen added he’s excited to see the demand in the community. The new program is expected to go live in the spring around May.

“I’m really excited about this program and can’t wait to see how it works,” Mayor Nann Worel said. “I hope we get flooded with applications.”

Parker Malatesta covers Park City for KPCW. Before coming to NPR, he spent one year as a general assignment reporter for TownLift in Park City. He previously was the news editor at The News Record, the student paper at the University of Cincinnati. He loves running, reading, and urban planning.