Is Brown the New Green? Not Watering Lawns Works

brown grass photo

Grass au natural. Photo via Flickr by andrewds14

It's catching on: homeowners letting lawns go fallow during the summer without wasting resources on watering. When I lived in Seattle it was a common practice. After the grass turns brown, come fall, the rains return and voila!, it goes green again. But here in semi-arid Southern California, there are sprinkler systems even along freeway banks in order to prevent brush fires. So I figure my short showers and other water conservation tricks are barely a drop in the vast bucket of the LA basin sucking the Colorado River dry. Do water restrictions work?

Indeed, all those drops have added up. The Department of Water and Power reported last week, that water demand in Los Angeles reached a 32-year low in June, dropping 11% compared to last year. Saving water does make a difference and water restrictions pay off. Though a cooler-than-normal month, Jim McDaniel of the DWP told the LA Times, "You don't see those kinds of reductions just due to weather."

lawn sprinklers photo

Shorter showers for lawns, too. Photo via Flickr by Jellaluna
Residential lawn sprinklers are now limited to 15 minutes a day on Mondays and Thursdays only and not allowed between 9 am and 4 pm, due to drought conditions. Businesses don't have the same day restrictions but are instructed to reduce water usage by 20% (which could be the actual drop in the bucket).

But then certain lawmakers started whining that the rules were killing lawns and devaluing home property values. In an attempt to sell some houses in gutted areas, realtors have resorted to spray painting yards green to avoid upkeep. Wonder how good that is for the soil? (See below for an answer.)

Considering that full daylight is the least effective time to water vegetation (it evaporates) and the most damaging time for burning greenery, it seems foolish to protest. In Long Beach, CA consumers reduced water usage by 9.4% compared to 2008 with an extra day of watering. Matthew Veeh of the Long Beach Water Department recommends drought-resistant landscaping and native plants instead of water-hogging grass lawns.

Other alternatives include fake grass (prohibited in some municipalities) or painting the grass. According to a comment in an ecosalon piece, lawn staining is not a harmful chemical treatment: Most grass "paints" are actually dyes, most of which are china clay or kaolin one of the purest clays. It comes out of the decomposition of feldspar in granite Green grass dye is a great way to conserve water and lasts until the grass has to be cut or for up to 12 weeks.

It still perpetuates "the grass is greener" mythology. Can't we switch yards to be "in the clover" or simply put the lawn aesthetic out to pasture?

More on water conservation:
Water Conservation Techniques That Make Every Drop Count
California Businesses Could Save Enough Water to Supply San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles
7 Simple, Unexpected Ways to Save Water : TreeHugger
Eco-Organizations Come Together to Form the Alliance for Water Stewardship

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