I knew I was in trouble when the dollars needed to water my grass each month exceeded the square footage of my lawn. For me, in Central California, that number is 1,400.
Here, as in many parts of the drought-stricken West, water is the new gold. And lawns, which occupy roughly 4 million acres in California, soak up a lot of it. According to state calculations, an average lawn in the cooler, foggy parts of the state needs about 22,000 gallons of water a year. In the hottest, driest areas — Palm Springs, for example — the same size lawn requires over 60,000 gallons to keep green.
An alarming study published in “Nature Climate Change” indicates that the Western megadrought is now the worst since the year 800.
This month I shut off the sprinkler system and let my lawn go brown. The woman across the street took a different approach, installing bright green artificial turf. I’ve always hated that stuff, which I equate with fake Christmas trees and plastic flamingos. But maybe she’s looking at my pathetic patch of brown and having a hearty laugh.
Most high schools and colleges here have covered their athletic fields with synthetic turf. It’s not cheap — a baseball field costs several million dollars. My amateur team now plays on this type of surface: There are fewer bad hops, no mud in your spikes, and no stains on your pants. But I miss the smell of a freshly mown infield.
I grew up earning money by cutting grass. My parents were fond of lawn sports such as badminton and croquet. My dad used to bound across the lawn whenever he spotted a dandelion, determined to dig it out before its seeds could spread.
A few weeks ago California ordered businesses and local governments to stop watering “nonfunctional turf,” in areas such as office parks and highway medians. The state hasn’t forced residents to stop irrigating their lawns — although soaring water bills are doing a pretty good job of that. “If everybody took out half their lawn,” water expert Jeff Mount told the Sacramento Bee, “you would create enough water for the indefinite future.”
Nevada’s water woes are also growing. That state’s new Nonfunctional Turf Removal Advisory Committee is charged with seeing to it that all nonfunctional grass areas (places like golf courses are considered “functional”), that are not single-family homes, are grass-free by the end of 2026.
Several homeowners in my neighborhood have replaced their lawns with so-called drought-resistant plants. Such transformation is costly and, alas, not necessarily deer-resistant. Still, Southern California has had some success with lawn removal. The water district serving 26 municipalities says rebate programs have led to eradication of 200 million square feet of grass, saving enough water to serve 62,000 homes annually.
I don’t know if it’s my exorbitant water bill or my earnest concern about the environment, but this summer I’m making more adjustments. I keep a bucket in the kitchen sink to collect “gray water” that then goes on the tomato plants outside. I have no idea how much water I’m saving but if nothing else it makes me feel better.
While looking out at my brown front yard the other day I stumbled across a story in the New York Times about “peecycling.” Apparently urine is useful for hydrating and fertilizing many types of vegetation.
While I hope none of my neighbors saw the article, I suppose it helps explain that old saying: The grass is always greener around fire hydrants.
Copyright 2022 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Peter Funt’s new memoir, “Self-Amused,” is now available at CandidCamera.com.