OPINION: Green grass should be removed during drought

Although California has entered its fifth year of a historically punishing drought, the concept of conservation has been hard to grasp for some communities. Swimming pools have remained full and front yards, parks, golf courses and campuses are still lush with thick green grass despite the semi-arid climate of California.

Green turf lawns are aesthetically pleasing and provide a space for recreational activities, however they provide no sustenance and only a few redeeming environmental qualities. Healthy grass is preferred by AYSO soccer coaches and country club regulars, however it is detrimental to an already drought stricken California.

It has been just over one year since Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to the drought. The mandate included cutting the state’s water usage by 25 percent. Since June 2015, the state has met the cumulative conservation goal despite failing in October, November and December.

Roadside turf lawn is being watered along La Novia Ave in San Juan Capistrano despite day-time watering being prohibited year-round. (Kurtis Rattay/ Lariat)

Roadside turf lawn is being watered along La Novia Ave in San Juan Capistrano despite day-time watering being prohibited year-round. (Kurtis Rattay/ Lariat)

During winter months watering is restricted to once a day. The maximum watering time in February is 10 minutes for lawns and eight minutes for trees and shrubs. Watering landscapes between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. is prohibited year round.

If every turf lawn were removed in California water usage would decrease an additional 5 to 7 percent, according to Priceonomics Data Services. They estimate that a 2,000 square foot lawn uses between 37,000 and 50,000 annually. Landscaping accounts for nine percent of the state’s water usage.

Turf lawns trap smoke and dust particles, trap some pollutants, absorb noise and act as “external air conditioners” by controlling climates at ground level, wrote The Lawn Institute on the benefits. Draining an already depleted resource pays for these benefits.

Home and property owners who have taken notice of the horrific drought may convert their landscape from water-guzzling green grass to California native plants. Landscaping with native plants like succulents, sage and deergrass require only rainfall and possibly supplemental watering due to the drought.

The Santa Margarita Water District, which serves Mission Viejo and Rancho Santa Margarita, provides a list of effective conservation methods. At the top of the list they suggest watering lawns only when necessary, or removing it all together. The water district also offers a turf removal rebate for eligible applicants.

Converting a lawn to native plants was found to decrease water usage by 60 percent, according to data by Center for Landscape and Urban Horticulture. Decorating with plants that should be there anyway is not exactly an abstract idea.

Although rains in Southern California have been few and far between, El Nino has produced snowpack gains in the Northwest. On Feb. 2, despite the anticlimactic precipitation, the State Water Board extended and revised an emergency regulation plan to ensure conservation continues into 2016.

Californians should continue to conserve water any way they can. Water-guzzling turf lawns that produce nothing but an aesthetically pleasing environment should be immediately replaced with native plant landscaping.