Tuesday, May 06, 2003

To lawn or not to lawn

This article from the cover of Sunday's LA Times Magazine, "Whither the lawn," highlights the issues surrounding lawn-growing in So California.
The problem with turfgrass [vs. native grasses], unfortunately, is that it doesn't belong here. To keep it alive, we subject it to more heroic measures than a guest star on "ER." Americans spend $1 billion a year on synthetic fertilizers and half again as much on pesticides and herbicides. Nobody knows for sure what effects these chemicals have on the environment. That said, a thorough reading of the myriad warnings contained in the instructions for applying Turflon—commonly used to kill unfashionable Bermuda grass—is enough to make you consider buying a chemical warfare suit. Lawns also contribute indirectly to air pollution. There are more than 1 million lawnmowers in Southern California, and each of them, on average, spews as much pollution in a year as a new car driven 86,000 miles.

But the biggest knock on lawns, especially in these parts, is that they suck up water at an alarming rate. It's not uncommon for homeowners in L.A. to dump 65,000 gallons annually on their yards. That's more than 1 million glasses a year. In coastal areas, families typically devote one-third of their water to irrigating their landscapes. Inland, more water goes to lawns than all other household uses combined.

On a statewide basis, agriculture is by far the biggest water hog, consuming 80% of the water used for non-environmental purposes. Nobody has a hard number for how much water goes to lawn care—certainly no more than 5% statewide. But the percentage may be four or five times higher in urban areas, especially if you include golf courses, parks and other large turfgrass areas.

The numbers game gets more complicated when population growth is factored into the equation. State officials project a scary 50% increase, from 35 million to 53 million residents, during the next 25 years. The Metropolitan Water District already may lose a sizable portion of the water that now comes from the Colorado River. "Southern California is facing the big crunch," says Carolee Krieger, president of the California Water Network. "And I don't know if there's going be a place for lawns in this environment."
The article also covers the history of lawns in the U.S.

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