Oct 12, 2022 - News

Mormon church lawns remain green after water conservation announcement

A green lawn in front of a church building.

The lawn in front of a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse near West Temple and 1800 South. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

More than three months after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it was focusing on water conservation, its lawns in Salt Lake County remain mostly lush and green.

Driving the news: Axios surveyed more than 120 meetinghouses and other church properties in Salt Lake County during the first 10 days of October, after a summer of record-breaking heat during a continuing drought.

  • Only four of the lawns showed notable water stress or dormancy.
  • More than 90% of the sites were overwhelmingly landscaped with healthy, green turf grass.

Why it matters: State and local leaders are imploring homeowners to reduce their landscaping water use as the West grapples with a megadrought and the Great Salt Lake continues to shrink.

Catch up quick: The church announced in June that it was reducing its water use with landscaping changes and plumbing fixes.

  • "Watering of lawns and landscapes at temples, meetinghouses and other buildings is being reduced," church leaders wrote. "In some cases, landscape will be permitted to brown and become dormant."

Of note: At several locations, we compared the church lawn to neighboring lawns and consistently found neighboring properties with less-green grass than the churches did.

  • That suggests the church's grass didn't simply rebound as temperatures cooled in September.
Brown grass in the foreground, with green grass at a churchyard next door.
The green grass of a churchyard is visible behind a neighbor's brown lawn. Photo: Erin Alberty/Axios

Yes, but: Some locations — about seven — had significant xeriscaping.

  • Smaller xeriscape beds —around parking areas and at lawn borders — appeared at several locations.
  • Many of those contained mature plants, so it's unclear whether that planting occurred as part of the church's newly-announced water conservation measures.

The latest: From 2018 to 2022, the church's headquarters in Salt Lake City has reduced water consumption by more than 30 million gallons a year, L. Todd Budge, Second Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said in an address Wednesday at Utah Valley University.

  • "We strive to incorporate water-wise principles of regionally appropriate plant material, reducing lawns and efficient irrigation systems," he said.
  • When asked why so many lawns didn't appear to struggle from reduced irrigation, the church media office repeated Budge's statements.

Context: The Guardian last month raised eyebrows with a report that Latter-day Saint teachings encourage members to keep their lawns lush and green.

  • The article cited parallels between the Mormon pioneers and Israelites seeking a promised land in the desert, and connected that to a belief that God would provide Mormon settlers with the resources they need.
  • The article prompted objections from church members — including Gov. Spencer Cox — who said they'd never heard green lawns extolled in worship.
  • But several others said they had.

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