Why the Great American Garden is terrible for the water crisis in the West 2022-04-28 15:49:09


Residents and businesses in counties around Los Angeles were told this week that they will need to limit outdoor water use to one day per week starting June 1. It is the first time that water officials have implemented such a strict rule.

“This is a crisis. This is unprecedented,” said Adel Hajj Khalil, general manager of Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District. “We’ve never done anything like this before and because we’ve never seen a situation like this before.”

The Great American Garden has historically been a status symbol and has been portrayed as a place of recreation and rest. But it does require a lot of water to maintain – water that runs out quickly.

Grass was the largest irrigated “crop” in America, surpassing corn and wheat, a Studies are often cited From NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She noted that by the early 2000s, turfgrass–mostly in front lawns–extended an area of ​​about 63,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Georgia.

Keeping all that front lawn alive requires up to 75% of just one family’s water consumption, according to that study, a luxury California can’t afford as droughts caused by climate change are pushing reservoirs to historic lows.

In southern California — dotted with affluent celebrity mansions and pristine green squares — traditional grass lawns will no longer function as the consequences of climate change intensify, said John Flick, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program. .

“You want to have a space in your backyard for your kids to play in, so a little bit of lawn isn’t horrible,” Flick told CNN. “It’s just a large area of ​​lawn – not really being used other than ‘because it looks nice’ – it has to go. That’s what we can’t have anymore.”

“We can’t save water for her,” he said.

water pigs

Burton Agnes Hall in Worcestershire, circa 1880. The obsession with well-manicured lawns began in England and was adopted in the United States - even where the lawn is not intended to thrive.
USA Grass obsession It can be traced back to 17th century England, Flick said, where finely manicured lawns became “a symbol of status and wealth” due to the high cost of maintaining them.

“The idea of ​​lawns as a sign of prestige became so embedded in this country’s horticultural culture with British colonialism, so it kind of traveled west with us and it took all that effort,” Flick said.

In the United States, lawns have expanded and thrived on the East Coast, “where it rains all the time, and you don’t need to add a lot of supplemental irrigation water,” Flick said. As the Americans walked west, they took with them “the landscapes with which they were familiar and comfortable.”

“The big problem is that we’ve brought grasses into this climate in the Southwest that come from places that are much wetter,” Flick said. “The classic example is called the Kentucky Bluegrass.”

Kentucky bluegrass, which is native to Europe and Asia but grows particularly well in parts of the eastern United States, requires far more water than the West can provide.

Homes and golf course in the Summerlin community of Las Vegas.  Last year, the state of Nevada passed a bill to ban ornamental grasses, to remove all 'organic grasses'.  Non-functional grass "  of the Las Vegas Valley by 2027.

Water does not last long in the arid southwest. Hot, dry air quickly vaporizes the water, which in turn increases the amount needed to saturate the lawn. This effect increases even more on hot summer days – warmer air can absorb more – and also when it’s hard to get an ample amount of water.

In California, the amount of water needed to maintain a lawn varies. The state is home to nearly a dozen temperate climates that range from humid and cold to hot and dry.

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So a 1,500-square-foot lawn in Crescent City on the North Coast might need 22,000 gallons of water per year, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

But in the far south, the need increases dramatically. A lawn of the same size in Los Angeles needs 43,000 gallons per year. An hour east of that in Palm Springs, it jumps to 63,000 gallons a year.

Now consider the fact that the average lawn size in California is a lot like 5,500 square feet, according to HomeAdvisorAnd you can see how lawn maintenance in the West can begin to make up a large portion of a family’s water budget.

Nearly half of California’s urban water consumption is used for outdoor landscapes, primarily due to low humidity and hot, hot summers, according to the Water Resources Department. The average indoor water consumption in California is about 51 gallons per day — or 19,000 gallons per year — according to the agency.

Lawn mowers, weed cutters, fertilizer

Grass has difficulty accessing and absorbing water when it is fertilized.

Besides the extensive use of water, gas-powered lawn mowers emit potentially cancer-causing pollutants and greenhouse gases, which in turn contribute to the region’s climate crisis and drought.

Stunning before and after photos show just how dry this important reservoir is
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, gas-powered lawn and gardening equipment Released More than 22 million tons of carbon emissions in 2018. And every year, the agency estimates that More than 17 million gallons From spilled gasoline only to refuel equipment.

Grass also has trouble reaching and absorbing water when it is fertilized, which means more frequent watering is needed. Fertilizers promote plant growth, increasing its density above and below ground. The roots can become compacted, which eventually reduces the soil’s ability to hold water.

connect scientists Fertilizer use to increase In evaporation, the process by which water moves from the ground into the air. In the West, lack of rainfall and increased evaporative demand – also known as “atmospheric thirst” – are the main drivers of the region’s water crisis. Warmer temperatures increase the amount of water the atmosphere can absorb, which then leads to drying out of the landscape.

What you can do different

Weedless Yards in Boulder City, Nevada.

Flick, who lives in a lawnless suburban home in Albuquerque, said that if he had a lawnmower, he would probably require the same amount of water as a “thrifty indoor water user” in a day.

“If you’re going to have outdoor landscaping,” he said, “the biggest bang for your buck is the trees, not the lawns.” “With trees, you get an urban heat island cooling effect, save air conditioning power from shade, and in an urban area that struggles with air quality like Southern California, trees help clean the air.”

Some cities are already dealing with excessive water use by offering homeowners purchases to replace their lawns with alternatives like Native plants or xeriscaping.
One of San Diego’s major water conservation programs Homeowners pay To rip up yards filled with Kentucky bluegrass and other lawn grasses—$4 per square foot—and replace them with more water-efficient desert plants. Since launching the program, the city says it has successfully replaced 42 million square feet of lawns.
House in the historic neighborhood of Las Palmas in Palm Springs, with a mix of lawn and xeriscaping in the front yard.
Last year, Nevada passed a bill to ban ornamental grass, which would force the removal of all “non-functional grass” from the Las Vegas Valley by 2027. The Colorado River, which supplies water for most of Nevada, is dwindling at an alarming rate. The state’s recent conservation efforts will provide about 10% of the area’s annual allotment for water from the Colorado River Basin.

“The original landscaping makes sense and can be really beautiful,” Flick said. “One of my favorite western cities is Tucson, and it has embraced this landscaping aesthetic and is just a great city, and it uses a lot less water to do that.”

Flick said he expects the “brown grass to be a badge of honor” soon.

“It’s like – I’m making my contribution to the well-being of our community in this time of crisis by not watering my lawn,” he said. “And I expect that to become a status symbol.”