Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson announced more than $1 million in grants to several cities to help convert grass to more water-efficient landscaping.

Wilson was joined by several mayors and city officials at the West Jordan City Hall on Thursday, where she expressed the need for continued conservation efforts, even as Utah's record snowpack has lessened the effects of drought this year.

"It's hard to believe we are in a declared flood emergency and we're here to talk about drought," she said. "But indeed, our drought challenges are ongoing. I call it whiplash weather. We had an amazing year ... but we know that our Great Salt Lake is suffering."

Shovel in hand, West Jordan Mayor Dick Burton joined Wilson and officials from neighboring cities to break ground on a conversion project in the parking lot in front of City Hall. He said the city hopes to be an example to residents to "flip their strips," by converting park strips and other nonessential grass.

"If we just do these little things, and enough people do these little things, it ends up making a big difference," he said. "And that is amazingly important."

Unsatisfied with the progress made by shovel, Burton climbed into a nearby excavator to pull up a long strip of sod.

The grants will use funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, and will cover conversion of turf on municipal property. They will be distributed through the Integrated Water Conservation and Land Use Municipal Partnership, made up of Salt Lake County, Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District and the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Bluffdale, Riverton, Sandy, Taylorsville, West Jordan, West Valley City and South Jordan are all recipients of the grants, which total $1.1 million. Together, the conversion projects will remove 412,000 square feet of nonessential turf and conserve 9 million gallons of water per year.

Amid Utah's yearslong drought, efforts to convert "thirsty" landscaping — such as replacing park strip grass with water-wise plants — have grown in popularity, both personally and at the municipal level.

West Jordan Mayor Dick Burton operates an excavator during a press conference announcing grants for the conversion of grass fields at the West Jordan City Hall on Thursday.
West Jordan Mayor Dick Burton operates an excavator during a press conference announcing grants for the conversion of grass fields at the West Jordan City Hall on Thursday. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News

Burton said the grants will help West Jordan continue the work they've already begun.

"With all the (water) we got this past year, everybody's thinking we're out of the problem," he said. "We're not, but we will be if we don't keep using water. We use it and nature replenishes it. We can't control nature's schedule, but we can control the schedule of when we use it, and that's where we have the power to make a difference."

He acknowledged that residents across his city — and the state — have already taken it upon themselves to convert their landscaping to save water.

"Thank you so much for what you've done. You've done a fantastic job," he said. "We asked you to conserve, and you stepped forward and you did it."

"None of us can do this alone," Wilson said. "Governments, businesses and families all need to do their share."

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson speaks after a press conference announcing grants for the conversion of grass fields into turf at the West Jordan City Hall in West Jordan on April 27, 2023. | Ryan Sun, Deseret News