Lawns are the cradle of American virtues and culture. Often a marker of affluence and socioeconomic prosperity, well-manicured green expanses have defined neighborhoods and those within in them. Yet, as wildfires rage in California, reservoirs are emptied and fields lay fallow; the grass is no longer greener on the other side.
My neighbors have a sign in their sepia-toned front yard which displays in all caps “Brown is the New Green: Join us in fighting the drought!” While a powerful show of solidarity in a drought-weary state, the notice seemed more like a justification for the destruction of their once beautiful lawn. While no one in our tight-knit cul-de-sac seemed less than enthusiastic about the “lawnicide,” behind closed doors, people worried about lowered property values and the lack of curb appeal.
Emma Gellman ’19, a Santa Cruz native, agreed that her family had to overcome concerns over their yard’s attractiveness. “My family stopped watering our lawn and garden. To us, the conservation of water was and still is more important than the aesthetic appeal of our home.” In a region that barely has enough water to last another year, citizens need to focus on conserving their resources.
Since early 2015, various local organizations within California, such as the Metropolitan Water District, have offered money to homeowners who have chosen to replace their lawns with more eco-friendly combinations, such as gravel and cacti. With rainfall at below-normal levels for more than four years now, households are faced with the reality that maintaining a verdant pasture out front is no longer a possibility. In addition, rations have turned lawns into more of a luxury than a fixture in the Californian home. Despite all these regulations and alternatives the process of removing grass has been unsuccessful in many parts of the state, as concerns regarding property values.
An April 2015 New York Times Article, “Drought Frames Economic Divide of Californians,” found that residents of wealthier areas were willing to pay exceptional fines in order to keep their estates looking pristine, while for poorer ones, water meant money, and the less they could use of either was better. Official reasoning ranges from increased fire hazards to simple ignorance, but the fact remains that Californians are unwilling to relinquish an institution that has become integral to a successful impression.
Nevertheless, in general, no single family has a greater need for the precious water than another, and it’s important that residents realize and accept that. As a state, California must pool together its resources to ensure that every resident receives a similar amount of water, and that officials have enough to fight the raging wildfires now plaguing the Northern half. Stronger mandates on water usage would help guarantee that people do not overuse the little water that is left.
Still others wonder about the future of their lawns given that the drought will most likely end in a few years. The process of reseeding and regenerating the barren plot requires an intense degree of dedication and effort, and many Californians question their abilities and resources to do so. Many cannot afford the switch to artificial turf or to eco-friendly plants, and making a long-term investment for what seems like a short-term environmental issue does not seem like a practical option for many families. The promise of a rainy winter also brings hope to many that the dry spell is coming to a close.
The fact is that the intensity of the current drought must be recognized and that the future climate is unpredictable. Should reports be misinformed and heavy rains do not hit California this year, residents will find themselves in a more precarious situation than before.
My own family finally renounced our beloved lawn at the beginning of this summer, over three years after the official start of California’s drought. The beautiful green patch that marked a haven in the midst of suburbia now has dried out into a rough expanse of stocks and stems. What was once a gleeful childhood spot for me is now an area I try to avoid seeing due to its unsightliness. Yet, I too am falling into the trap of using fertile grass as a marker of appearance and prosperity, on an emotional rather than economic level. It is important to accept and respect that the death of our lawn, while unfortunate, is fundamental to conserving water during this period of extreme need. Together, we are one step closer to making brown the new green.
Photo courtesy of International Business Times