Over the past decade California has been under a drought state of emergency and homeowners have been encouraged to remove their lawns. Those that have lawns have been forced to shut off or severely limit their irrigation to comply with water restriction policies. I’m not sure that this has been as environmentally friendly as California’s legislators have hoped; considering that landscape irrigation only accounts for 9% of statewide developed water use, it seems minimal compared to the benefits that turf provides. Yes, it certainly saves on water use but at what cost?
Urban areas are prone to higher temperatures when compared to surrounding areas and removing lawns only aids in creating hot spots. Turfgrass helps to “air condition” landscapes by means of transpiration (evaporation of water from plant leaves.) Losing this natural air conditioning in urban areas can result in a temperature rise of several degrees; which in turn requires more energy to cool homes and businesses.
Turfgrass reduces air pollution by not only creating oxygen but by trapping smoke and dust particles.
Turfgrass maintains healthy soils by reducing nutrient loss and promoting healthy soil structure.
Healthy lawns can also aid in slowing or stopping the spread of wildfires. Having a living “green carpet” around homes and businesses provides some protection and seems like good reason to keep turfgrass in play.
In environments that are busy with roadway noise, turfgrass helps to eliminate noise pollution. Turfgrass does this by increasing surface area, reducing noise by 8-10 decibels when compared to bare soil.
I believe that turfgrass in California can be sustained through periods of drought. This can be partially achieved by using turfgrass types that have deep root structures. These type turfgrasses provide the most drought resistance and require the least amount of water (Bermudagrass comes to mind.) Also, irrigation system technologies have come a long way in recent years and “green” conservative options are now widely available.
In 2017, California received above average rainfall for the first time in 5 years. In this year, all but 4 counties have had the drought state of emergency lifted; I believe that now is the time to implement a statewide strategy promoting turfgrass. This could be accomplished by providing financial incentive to those who upgrade their irrigation systems and implement drought tolerant turf types. This would require some form of public education but I believe the benefits outweigh the costs. I think it is time that California legislators stop demonizing turfgrass in the name of water conservation and seek ways to give homes and businesses their lawns back.
Adam Wilson, Agriculture Science major at Western Illinois University from Colchester, IL. Landscape professional 10+ years.