How SoCal is Killing the Lawn & WHY they’re not stoppin' now
Jaws dropped across the room as I sat in a crowd of 30 people at the Landscaping Expo in Anaheim this past November. What the Conservation Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California told us could not be unheard. “We are 9 months away from shutting off all outdoor potable water,” she said.
“What does that mean?” Someone asked.
“It means water for health and safety only. Drinking water, showers, laundry that’s it.”
“Heavy, heavy fines for anyone caught watering outside of restrictions.”
Murmurs echo. That means rain catchment and grey water as your only sources for irrigating landscapes. It dawns on me, suddenly, why rain water harvesting features are required for every turf replacement rebate.
"That’s why we’re trying to get people to make these changes now voluntarily,” Ms. Guerrero went on, “because if enough people don’t take action and reduce our demand by removing lawns... we’re out of time.”
This representative is from the water district that serves the majority of Southern California. More than 19 million people. They’re trying to kill the romance of the lawn.
She goes on, “We don’t want lawns to be the norm anymore.”
Why? Well we all know the statistics, in Southern California up to 75% of residential water usage goes outdoors to landscaping and gardens. And according to Green Gardens Group research, even slightly more water savvy styles of landscaping can cut that number in half easy. And up to 3/4 for low-water natives.
This is not going to change. Even after all the reservoirs are full from an epic rainy winter. How we use water in landscaping has to change. Because water politics has changed. Less and less water has become available for importation into California. We have to learn to rely on what we have. Regionally.
Southern California has leaned heavily on imported water from Northern California and the Colorado river for a decade. And with persistent depletion in the entire Colorado river region (which also feeds Utah, Arizona, Nevada & Mexico) the availability of supplemental water just keeps going down.
According to MWDSC “the federal government has called on Colorado River water users to curtail their use in 2023 and 2024 by 4 million acre-feet a year – [that's] the total amount used by California in a year. And if voluntary cuts cannot be achieved, federal officials have initiated a process to mandate sizeable reductions.” That means no supplemental water to Southern California residents in the not-so-distant future. We may be in the clear this year. Just. But it is a very likely reality for the droughts ahead. We need to use water better.
Which brings us back to why, the mega SoCal water district is still on the lookout for cutting all outdoor watering in 2023 drastically. So much so that they have upped turf replacement rebates from $2/sq.ft. to $3/sq.ft. for 2023. Many cities chipping in on top of that.
Someone raises a hand and asks why the rebates aren’t supporting artificial turf like they do in Arizona. The eco-minded crowd stirs. “We are not supporting artificial turf" Ms. Guerreo says carefully, "because we are trying to change the optics of what Lanscaping looks like in California.”
The optics. The visuals. That means that the largest governing bodies of water in California are hoping to change the very LOOK of landscaping in California. They want the love of lawn dead.
“We are especially targeting unused lawn” she says, “commercial entries, roadside beds, meridians,” anything where people don’t regularly walk and play. The conservation officer is optimistic that we can all work together and the district can provide enough incentives to rip out enough lawn, replace enough decrepit (and leaking) irrigation systems to be better prepared for water shortages in the future. And recreate California’s residential landscapes to be as beautiful as we all know they can be.
This is the future of Lanscaping and the vision we all need to help seed. Currently around %5 of the state of California is covered in lawn. That’s around 40 million acres. With much of it unused.
After 6 decades of the unquestioned romance of loving lawn, it’s time to think again. And think fast. Because time afterall, is running out.