Creating a Backyard Oasis in Desert Drought

Las Vegas is the home of high-rollers and the glittering strip, but it's also home to 2 million average residents. Since 1990, the city's population has doubled.

A shrinking water supply combined with the growing population is one of the most pressing issues facing the desert community. The water shortage is reaching crisis proportions as a historic drought strangles the region's main water source, the Colorado River.

The river collects at Lake Mead, where the water level has dropped 100 feet in eight years — that's 5 trillion gallons of water gone.

Until recently, water conservation was not a priority in the fast-growing city.

Forced to take drastic steps to conserve its tightening water supply, Las Vegas officials declared lawns public enemy No. 1.

"This is the driest desert in North America. In the old days we built stuff that you would find next to the Great Lakes, with turf everywhere. Not anymore," said Tom Warden of the Howard Hughes Corp.

Now, though, desert landscaping is the "in" trend for homeowners who want to create an environmentally friendly oasis that uses up to 75 percent less water than a turf lawn. It involves the use of drought-friendly plants that can withstand heavy sun exposure and little rain, such as flowering cacti, moonbeam and yarrow plants, and certain perennials.

Steven Lee and Brenda Cowart designed their backyard oasis and got rid of big sprinklers and lawnmowers.

"We kind of wanted to create something that was lush but still desert friendly and used water efficiently," Cowart said.

But in Las Vegas, money talks, so homeowners and businesses are being lured to this new landscaping with cold, hard cash.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is paying $1.50 a square foot to rip out lawns and replace them with the new desert-friendly variety.

Over 100 million square feet of turf has been converted through the program, saving 7 billion gallons of water.

Find out more about creating a drought-resistant yard at:

Southern Nevada Water Authority