This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
WEST JORDAN - Its hard to believe diminutive Alexandra Eframo, in her denim skirt, black socks and matching walking shoes, is the scourge of city bureaucrats and the focus of neighborhood rage.
"I'm a rebel," the smiling 73-year-old retiree says, conducting a tour of her desertscaped lawn that has become a local environmental battlefield that she hopes to take statewide with a bill in the Legislature.
Four years ago, Eframo heeded then Gov. Olene Walker's plea for Utahns to fight the drought by conserving water. She studied the "Slow the Flow" messages from the Jordan Valley Water Conservation District and the city of West Jordan itself - neither of which apparently expected anyone to take them seriously.
Eframo shut off her sprinklers and planted more than 200 drought-resistant plants. She sees her effort at xeriscaping as a hope for the future; her neighbors see it as an attack on their property values.
Eframo has a message for suburban Utah and its acres of water-sucking lawns: "Get off of it-we're living in a desert!" she says. "We've got to save water."
A short drive through the serpentine residential developments that comprise southern Salt Lake Valley reveals the monolithic culture of grass that Eframo has rebelled against. As sprinklers rotate, Eframo's neighbors manicure lawns that would put a golf course to shame.
Her sparse yard is dotted with hardy wildflowers and aspen runners. Aside from homey hand-painted markers proclaiming, "Hummingbirds welcome!" and "Gardens bloom with love," Eframo's lawn looks pretty much like the desert that greeted Brigham Young and company.
West Jordan City officials will not say how many neighborhood complaints and official warnings have been filed against the former Delta Air Lines worker, only that the list covers a couple pages in her file. Even more telling, if you mention Alexandra's name at the mayor's or city attorney's office, the office workers know exactly who you are asking about.
City Attorney Rodger Cutler confirmed her lawn is an ongoing source of friction in the neighborhood. He hints that Eframo is a bit dotty - "She's getting older and, well . . . "
But state icon Merlin Olsen echoes Eframo in a phone message for the Jordan Valley Conservation District, which supplies water to the southern suburbs. Olsen chides homeowners, "We live in a very dry state. Yet many people landscape their yards as if we lived in Seattle. . . . "
The difference is, Eframo actually lived in Seattle. "People there are much better at conserving water," she says.
Eframo acknowledges that she's a bit quirky. "I have OCD." One look at her riotous desert landscaping, however, shows that diagnosis is way off. Her neighbors may suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, but Alexandra Eframo does not.
"We encourage xeriscaping. There's plenty of latitude in our code that allows an extremely wide variety of landscaping," says South Jordan's water conservation technician Steve Glain. "But anything can be taken to extreme. This suggests something about this particular resident, not our code."
Eframo's extremist lawn aesthetic is not shared by her neighbors, he says.
"We are not isolated from each other in the community," Glain says. "Part of this issue is respecting your neighbors and adjusting your landscape to blend in."
But Eframo complains that it is her neighbors who are unwilling to compromise. "It's unbelievable the amount of water they waste. You would think they never heard of the drought," she says.
West Jordan's government Web site says homeowners "need to maintain a water-wise lifestyle, even after the current drought ends, in order to protect our scarce resources for future generations."
To encourage conservation, the city presents annual Water-Wise Landscaping Awards, including one for "Residential Water Miser." When the city presents the awards this week; Eframo doesn't expect to be a winner.
When Eframo landed in court last year facing several hundred dollars in fines, lawyer Steve Stewart took her case for free.
Stewart got the case thrown out on a constitutional issue, arguing that West Jordan's law was too vague to be enforced fairly.
City Prosecutor Michaela Andruzzi, who believes Eframo's dry lawn could pose a fire hazard, says the city wants Eframo to comply with the ordinance. "We want to keep our neighborhoods looking nice and our property values high. We are not trying to put people in jail for an ugly yard."
Stewart advised his client along the same lines, "Alexandra, I just want to keep you out of jail. I would rather prevent a charge from being filed against you than deal with one after it's filed."
He offered to get volunteers to help her finish the landscaping. The city has made similar offers, even some police officers offered to work in her yard, Andruzzi says.
But after her long-running battle, Eframo isn't sure the volunteers would apply her desert aesthetic. "You want to do it yourself. It's going to be so much fun to see what happens."
For now, the case remains in limbo, pending any additional complaints or citations.
Though West Jordan has tweaked its lawn ordinance after the court clash, the rules remain vague. Andruzzi was forced to put a reporter on hold while she scrutinized the ordinance to determine how much of a yard must be covered with vegetation. It's 50 percent, she learned, but a xeriscaper could argue, exactly what does the city mean by "vegetation"?
"You have a city that claims to be favoring water conservation," Stewart says, "then adopts ordinances that fly in the face of that."
Eframo has raised the stakes. She has asked Sen. Chris Buttars, the closest thing Utah has to a Saint of Lost Causes, to sponsor legislation that would give Utahns the right to landscape their yards as they see fit.
Buttars, who has supported causes ranging from regulating the teaching of evolution to rethinking the separation of church and state, says Eframo's proposal is probably not an issue the Legislature should get involved in.
"She has a good point," he acknowledges. "West Jordan is in conflict with itself. The city promotes water conservation, yet they have ordinances that require large amounts of grass."
Buttars says he'll listen to Eframo's arguments, "but this is probably an issue that is best dealt with at the city level."
The controversy puts David Rice, Jordan Valley Conservancy District conservation programs manager, in an uncomfortable position. The district's demonstration gardens are an inspiration for xeriscapers through the valley.
"We are trying to educate the public. A lot of people out there get the message and they want to implement our ideas," he says. "We applaud them."
But, Rice says, "That's where the complication comes in. We have no say or jurisdiction on what individual municipalities do or don't do in their landscaping ordiĀnances."
"We put ourselves in the position of encouraging people to do things when the city doesn't allow it. It's troubling."
In other words, Eframo who should be a poster child for water conservation may find herself a wanted poster for violating city ordinances.
Though she started xeriscaping to save water, Eframo has fallen in love with the 250 drought resistant shrubs, flowers and grasses she has painstakingly transplanted. "It's a work in progress."
She revels in the names: ice plant, Tubby Andrew, pussy toes, pink mist, beard tongue.
During a tour of her yard, she lets a blue willow sage tickle her fingers in the wind, "Look how gentle it is."
Bending over a purple hardy, she says, "Isn't it awesome. No one can tell me there is not a God."
Gazing over her yard, she says, "It's not first prize-but it's my pride."
For more information
* For water wise tips from Jordan Valley Conservancy District: http://www.slowtheflow.org
* For a look at West Jordan Water-Wise Landscape Awards finalists, go to http://www.wjordan.com, mouse over the government tab and then the link to water conservation.