The California drought and its artificial future

California residents have left their grass to because of the drought. (Flickr/Kevin Cortopassi/ Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC 2.0)

California residents have left their grass to die because of the drought. (Flickr / Kevin Cortopassi/ Creative Commons license CC-BY-NC 2.0)

California is looking very brown these days. Water conservation is a constant in California and lawns that were once green are now on the verge of death. You might even see some residents sporting artificial turf. California residents and communities are looking for other alternatives.

Residents have turned to California native plants, such as bark mulch and other sustainable landscaping options. However, some residents either ignore the drought or leave their lawns to die. While others turn to long lasting alternatives such as artificial turf.

Residents are starting to opt for artificial turf and turf removal especially since California Governor Jerry Brown called for the removal of 50 million square feet of lawn in the state. Brown has called for the state to offer turf removal rebates for $3.75 a foot.

“It is completely hassle-free,” said radio host Fred Hoffman in an article by the Sacramento Bee. “It still looks good since the day we installed it.”

Despite the apparent benefits, faculty and students of Saddleback’s landscaping and horticulture program disagree with artificial turf as an alternative.

“People are trying to reduce water consumption, some [are] going the right way,” said Robert Farnsworth, horticulture department chair and professor at Saddleback College. “Others [are] using astro-turf and cement [and there are many problems with astro-turf, we’ve analyzed the situation].”

Artificial turf has been a growing trend in California; people believe it is a viable alternative to water consuming lawns and water bills. But, there may be some draw backs with artificial turf.

“We teach about a sustainable approach to this drought, there really is no strong benefit to the drought, except to make the desert look green,” said Farnsworth.

Artificial turf has long-term negative effects on the environment. To start, it sterilizes soil.

“One, the astro-turf adds a lot of heat because of its black rubber mixed in there and then the cement prevents water from going into the water tables,” said Daniel Jacques, a student of the horticulture and landscaping design program at Saddleback College. “We have too much of that right now, added with all the roads.”

Experts agree that about 70 percent of California’s residential water is used outdoors and opting for a more water conscious landscape would change that statistic.

“It has blood, spit and vomit on it,” said Farnsworth. “It doesn’t go away with the chop of a mower. Often times it ends up going to a landfill for hundreds of years.”

Regardless of what residents do to change their landscape, they often run into additional problems with cities or neighborhood associations’ different community standards, creating conflict with city ordinances.

“Many cities and homeowner associations are not communicating,” said Melissa Adylia Calasanz, a student of the horticulture and landscaping design program. “They’re not all congruent with their goals, restrictions, and turf removal. There are even conflicts with the types of vegetation, rock or any type of landscaping.”

One positive of the drought is a surge of business opportunities for Saddleback students and landscaping and horticulture professionals. Artificial turf companies have taken up the opportunity the drought has provided.

“I’m doing turf conversions, we change a lot of turf area’s into drought tolerant landscapes,” said Mitchell Inokuchi, account specialist at ValleyCrest Landscape Management.

Faculty and students of the program don’t agree with artificial turf or cement, but they are still working on adapting and cultivating a program that is consistently up to date with technology and developments.

The drought has changed the way landscapers and horticulturist approach their methods. The program has made changes over the past couple of years that supports sustainable and drought tolerant landscapes.

While other programs still stick to standard practices, Saddleback has adjusted their program to suit the water tolerance.

“In the past it was pretty much regular, standard practice; a by the book traditional program,” said Janine Deemer, a student of the program at Saddleback College.

While its prospects may appear dreary it gives the Saddleback horticulture and design program opportunities for the program and its students.

“Things are great due to the drought. Opportunities are very strong for our students, club, and our graduates,” said Farnsworth. “With the drought, everybody is changing their landscape design,” said Farnsworth.

Resident’s are now more than ever considering a change in their landscape, but are often overwhelmed when faced with the task alone. Residents will often turn to artificial grass just for the curb appeal instead of opting for a California native based landscape.

Landscaper’s and horticulturist often have to work together to create a landscape design that looks good and is sustainable for the environment. This collaboration creates developments everyday that will reduce water and retain sustainability.

“As an educator, the mission is that we like to educate people to understand what is being sustainable,” said Ken Lee, Horticulture and Landscape Design instructor at Saddleback College.
The issue is retaining the idea of a sustainable landscape. You just can’t make it stick if it doesn’t have any curb appeal.”

Curb appeal is a difficult task. People have to like the natural landscape better than a traditional lawn. Also, landscape designs must be approved by an association and a city before it can be put into use.

“We can preach all sorts of things,” said Lee. “That this is the right thing to do, but if it doesn’t have curb appeal, people just don’t do it. It’s as simple as this.”

With the right design and a certain amount of curb appeal, landscapers and horticulturists can work together to create a more drought resistant terrain.