Lawns are the manifestation of human environmental hubris, and it’s hurting all of us. Regular readers of Things Are Good know that lawns are bad for a myriad of reasons (see links below for more info), and municipal leaders have caught on to this too. In the warmer, dryer areas of the US they’ve already banned the use of lawns due to water scarcity and some areas provide subsidies for sustainable landscaping to discourage the use of decorative grass. Now the entire state of Nevada is going to ban the use of lawns, good for them!
Even thinking beyond the insane amounts of water that turf requires, yards—often doused in fertilizers and pesticides designed to keep any and all natural wildlife away—have also become human monuments against biodiversity. Last month, when I reported on the drastic drop in monarch butterflies and the tribal coalition seeking to protect the animal’s migratory path, both Jane Breckenridge and Chip Taylor (who helped found the Tribal Alliance for Pollinators) cited the explosion of turf lawns as one of the main factors interrupting the natural habitats and resting places. The environmental case for separating lawns from the idealized version of homeownership is strong; the question is whether current regulations have the muscle to do it.
The City of Sacramento, for instance, currently offers a turf conversion rebate that helps residents offset the cost of transitioning their yards from turf to “low-water-use plants.” The program is one of many, as western and southwestern municipalities from Austin, Texas, to Mesa, Arizona, have pushed locals to ditch their turf in favor of drought-resistant plants over the past decade. Even the Southern Nevada Water Authority has a similar program in place, in addition to a developer-focused ban passed in 2003 that sought to outlaw planting grass yards in new subdivisions. But as a recent report from The Guardian showed, homeowners often decline these offers. One percent of metro Phoenix homeowners continue to use flood irrigation practices, dousing their yards in 60,000 acre-feet of water last year. That practice alone accounted for 7.5 percent of the water that the local water utility Salt River Project provided to the entire area. It’s as much as the entire city of Chandler, Arizona, used in a year.