water shortages

In Drought-Stricken California, Lawns Are Out

Summertime garden
For homeowners in many parts of the country, spring gardening conjures up images of nursing a lawn back to health or planting rows of daffodils. In California, however, more and more homeowners are ripping up their once-prized lawns and ditching thirsty flowerbeds in the face of the state’s worst-ever drought.

Gov. Jerry Brown even announced earlier this month that water use reductions would become mandatory for the first time in the state’s history. While water won’t be shut off if water districts exceed their allotted amounts, prices will rise sharply. As of now, about 5% of the state’s water usage goes to keeping lawns green, meaning that watering is likely to get expensive in the near future.

And that’s not the only financial incentive California residents have to replace grassy areas with less demanding alternatives: rebates are making it a smart short-term move as well.

Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District has paid more than $34 million in turf removal rebates since last summer, offering a rebate of $2 per square foot of turf removed; another $120 million in rebate applications has been approved.

So far, about 2,600 Los Angeles homeowners and 60 companies have ripped out their lawns, the LA Times reported earlier this month.

California’s water situation may be more dire, and better publicized, than shortfalls in other states, but homeowners and landscapers all across the country might want to be thinking about how to conserve outdoor water usage as well.

A report from the Government Accountability Office found last year that a full 40 out of 50 states are expected to experience freshwater shortages in at least one region sometime in the next 10 years.

That transition doesn’t have to be painful, however, landscaping experts are saying; there are plenty of drought-resistant plants that aren’t the spiny cacti most people think of first. And while plain old mulch might be an affordable option for homeowners really looking to cut back, there are other non-plant groundcovers that can be quite attractive, such as crushed granite or multi-colored gravel.

“Once considered plentiful, water is now becoming scarce in some areas and this concern may spread across all areas,” said Don Saunders, President of Saunders Landscape Supply. “The time to consider alternatives is now in order that this issue does not escalate into a crisis.”