Salt Lake County is likely to convert athletic fields to artificial turf

County officials say the fields aren’t just saving water. They will increase recreational opportunities by being available all year round.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rotating sprinkler system in Salt Lake City in June 2021. Salt Lake County is expected to approve water conservation measures that will convert athletic fields to artificial turf and remove grass from park lanes on state-owned property.

Salt Lake County is poised to save more than 11 million gallons of water a year through two actions aimed at curbing consumption.

Council members are expected next week to approve the use of $8.4 million in federal pandemic aid to convert three Murray athletic fields from natural turf to artificial turf and convert about 140 park lanes and parking lot islands in 40 counties to water-smart landscaping Locations.

The move comes as Utah and other western states grapple with ongoing drought and face a drier future.

Parks and Recreation Department director Martin Jensen said the plan to rebuild three playing fields next to the County Ice Center in Murray began with a conversation about water conservation.

“We live in a desert,” he said. “Water is becoming scarce and we need to look at other options to continue providing recreational services.”

By replacing the Murray grass with artificial turf, the county not only conserves water but expands recreational opportunities as the fields are available year-round.

Jensen said the remodel will save about 6 million gallons of water and $75,000 in maintenance and water costs each year. The synthetic fields have a feel and play similar to natural grass, Jensen said, and are expected to last about a decade.

Artificial grass playing surfaces are rarely uncommon in Utah, but the Murray move would represent the first outdoor artificial grass playing fields owned by Salt Lake County and available for public use.

Jensen said the county is not aiming to convert all fields in the valley to artificial turf. Officials will begin with the Murray project and may expand to other locations in the future.

The county will tender for the Murray project next month and hopes to begin conversion later this summer or early fall. Officials expect the fields to be playable early next year.

Council is also expected to approve a measure to convert 142 park lanes and parking islands from useless grass to water-oriented landscaping. The changes, first presented to council last month, will be implemented at 40 state-owned sites and are expected to save 5.3 million gallons of water annually.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said the millions of gallons saved by these turf conversions is great, but it’s a relatively small amount of water and significantly more water needs to be saved.

“As we’re seeing across the state of Utah,” Roerink said, “residents should be asking themselves if efforts like this are either public relations gimmicks or serious attempts to raise awareness and begin to eliminate wasteful water practices across the region.” ”

But Mayor Jenny Wilson said in a statement that the plans represent a serious commitment to water conservation.

“Salt Lake County is doing this to conserve water and raise awareness,” she said. “We are in a difficult water situation and need to practice what we preach. We also hope the public will see how we can transform park lanes and medians into truly attractive, drought-resistant areas that will inspire businesses and residents to follow our lead.”

The lawn conversions will be paid for by the American Rescue Plan Act, a pandemic relief law approved by Congress last year. Salt Lake County is likely to convert athletic fields to artificial turf

Joel McCord

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