Preserving the Environment

The Big, Environmental Problem with Grass and What This City Wants to Do About It

March 8, 2014
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The Big, Environmental Problem with Grass and What This City Wants to Do About It
Siri Stafford/Thinkstock
A northern Californian city wants to pay its residents to remove this water-intensive crop.

There’s something about a lush, perfectly manicured patch of green in front of a house that’s quintessentially American. In fact: about 80 percent of homes in the United States have lawns. But growing and maintaining those blades comes with a hefty price tag.

Lawn care, with its constant watering, weeding, fertilizing, and mowing is a $40-billion-a-year industry. And there’s an environmental cost, too. Lawn upkeep is a giant waste of water. The EPA estimates landscape irrigation accounts for nearly one-third of all residential water use — totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day. That’s a figure that water-pinched states (such as California, Kansas, and New Mexico) cannot afford to squander for a money-, resource-, and time-suck crop that isn’t even edible.

Now, the Sacramento, California City Council has unanimously voted for a “cash for grass” program that will give rebates to residents for getting rid of their lawns and replacing it with drought-friendly plants. (Lovely,  lower maintenance alternatives include perennials, shrubs, stone walkways or fruit and vegetable gardens.) The idea is that homeowners will receive 50 cents per square foot of lawn, up to 1,000 feet. The city has set aside $100,000 for the program and rebates will be issued in April.

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While the spending plan hasn’t yet been finalized, the Sacramento Bee reports that enthusiasm is high for the program and there’s already a waiting list of eager residents. “I think this will really help our residents make a difference in saving water,” said Councilman Kevin McCarty, who proposed the program. “I think it’s time that as a city, we help incentivize action in conservation.”

So could California’s lawns be in peril? With no end to this historic drought in sight, it’s a simple sacrifice that lawn lovers just might have to make.

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