In the Southwest, where drought, extreme heat and intense use by agricultural and fossil fuel companies are combining to threaten water supplies, cities are trying a number of different policies to entice homeowners to get rid of their lawn to save water.
Ian Lovett at The New York Times reports:
More than one million square feet of grass has been moved from Los Angeles residences since the rebate program began here in 2009. New parks provide only token patches of grass, surrounded by native plants. Outside City Hall, what was once a grassy park has been transformed into a garden of succulents.
The first five months of this year were the driest on record in California, with reservoirs in the state at 20 percent below normal levels. The lawn rebate program here will save approximately 47 million gallons of water each year, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
Similar policies in Las Vegas have also been successful:
The city’s investment has paid off, Ms. Mulroy said. In the last decade, 9.2 billion gallons of water have been saved through turf removal, and water use in Southern Nevada has been cut by a third, even as the population has continued to grow.
And it isn't the water crisis that has people rethinking the lawn. Ferris Jabr at Scientific American recently moved into a new home in Brooklyn and resisted his first instinct, which was to put in a grass lawn. His main concern? Bees.
Never has the well-being of wild bees been so crucial as now, when honeybees are dying en masse for a multitude of reasons—pesticides, poor nourishment, tenacious pathogens—and native bees find fewer places to live and so much less to eat.
So how could I steal even one more yard’s worth of what little viable habitat our wild pollinators have left? Surveying my garden, my impulse to rip up a flowering cluster of so-called weeds and replace it with a monochromatic mat now struck me as somewhat selfish and completely uninspired. Given a plot of land beside one’s house to use as one wishes, why turn so much of it into a lawn? Why must a lawn consist solely of uber-green, short-cropped, nearly identical blades of grass? What is a lawn anyways?
He goes on to write an interesting history of lawns, so read that here.
Here at TreeHugger, Sami Grover, Ramon Gonzalez, Colleen Vanderlinden and others have covered the problems with lawns and the need to replace them with native plants or, better yet, gardens.