Water Crisis: Separating Fact From Fiction


Climate change from drought to green growth

Photo: Getty Images

The situation is real but so are the answers. Our response to it can be measured and reasonable and ultimately good for everyone, drought/no drought.

The Meaning of Lawn

Lawn is the most grown crop in the U.S.—and the one crop that no one eats.

“Their primary purpose is to make us look and feel good about ourselves” - Scientific American, The American Obsession with Lawns

When Europeans first settled here, they found the Eastern seaboard was full of forest, not prairie, and those forests couldn’t support the grazing needs of large livestock. There were clumps of wild rye, broom straw and marsh grass, but they were consumed quickly. So the colonists began importing grasses.

Bermuda grass is from Africa. What we renamed Kentucky Blue Grass comes from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. And with exotic grasses came exotic weeds. By 1672 twenty-two European species of weeds had taken up residence around Massachusetts Bay.

Before the Civil War, front lawns were uncommon. Where they did exist, they were somewhat an experiment in a new style of landscaping being driven by the wealthy.

Most homes featured a small flower garden in the front, and an enclosed yard in the back.

Only the grand estates of Europe were manor houses set back behind massive rolling green manicured lawns. Because a lawn is expensive to plant, cut (especially before lawnmowers), and keep weeded, it became a status symbol. Once founding fathers like Washington and Jefferson began to emulate that look at Mt. Vernon and Monticello, lawns officially became an American status symbol.

Fast forward to the birth of suburbia in the 20th century and find every tract home got its very own symbol of success - the lawn.

Man mowing lawn

Photo: Getty Images

Why is the crisis focused almost solely on lawns?

  • Landscape irrigation is 70% of urban water usage
  • Of that 70% lawns take the lion share of water
  • Lawns take up so much space and use so much water that they are the area of greatest potential change.

What are we being told?

The message that’s BETTER than before - “keep shrubs, trees, and our urban forest alive.”

The message that has everyone upset is - “irrigating grass lawns at residences should be stopped immediately because grass will not survive on watering one day per week.”

So … is it true? THAT depends upon FOUR factors …

  1. The size of your lawn.
  2. The species of grass.
  3. The way you mow.
  4. The irrigation system and timing.

How do we adjust those FOUR factors?

  • Size
    • Reduce the lawn - smaller means less water and less boring landscape
    • Delineate between ornamental lawn and functional lawn, and only keep functional
  • Change the grass from exotic to native.
  • Mowing
    • Mow Taller

A blade of grass is like the leaf on a tree. It’s where the plant produces the necessary food for good root and shoot growth. The shorter the blade, the shorter the root, the less hearty the grass.

Longer blades shade the ground underneath, keeping it cooler, preserving moisture.

Longer blade reduces weed growth. There are 100s of weed seeds in every lawn, just waiting for the right conditions to germinate. One of those conditions is having enough sunlight to warm the seed. to help it germinate. Mowing high is one of the best weed control methods.

  • Mulch mow - more food, more shade
  • Aerate twice a year - deeper water penetration, healthier roots
  • Irrigation and Timing
    • You can change out sprinkler heads - 80% loss from old style mist
    • You can go with subsurface irrigation - Subsurface Watering - 60% - 70% more efficient than sprinklers - eliminates runoff, overspray, evaporation, wind drift,

Subsurface Irrigation Tips

  • Always call DigAlert @ 811
  • Choose new sod, sod cutter, or landscaping ground saw (2” wide trench up to 12” deep)
  • Irrigation materials
    • PVC header & footer, pressure regulator, filter, cleanout valve
    • (Rainbird) 1/2” subsurface emitter tubing 0.9gph emitters at 18”oc is typical, but soil type will determine configuration - 50’ roll $24
    • Material cost for subsurface watering =/- $ 0.50 per sf
    • Copper sulfate is made from copper compounds and sulfuric acid. It is environmentally friendly, and it does not harm surrounding trees. Copper sulfate is poisonous to the roots but does not affect the rest of the tree.

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