California drought spells the end of the American dream household lawn

Household lawns may be history as incentives offered to switch to water-conserving gardens

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 3:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 August, 2014, 3:48am


Lush lawns, a symbol of the American way of life, are under attack in California, where "cash for grass" programmes sprout during a severe drought.

With the state struggling to conserve water, outdoor areas are being reshaped as attitudes shift about what constitutes an attractive yard.

Financial incentives reflecting the dire circumstances of depleting reservoirs and underground aquifers are making it easier for many to make the switch.

Los Angeles offers US$3 for every square foot of grass that is replaced with more water-efficient options such as drought-tolerant plants, rocks and pebbles.

Under the "Cash in Your Lawn" incentive, property owners can get up to US$6,000 for making the conversion.

"People forget we live in the desert. Why do we try to make it the Midwest?" asked Larry Hall, a jazz musician, as he ripped up his front lawn to make it more environmentally friendly.

His wife Barbara said the city's programme made it possible to follow through and pay the bill for the project.

"We've thought about it, we've had estimates on re-landscaping but they were a little bit too high," she said. "So the rebate made it more of a reality."

Similar programmes have sprung up elsewhere in California as the three-year drought shows no signs of abating and threatens the water supply of the state's 38 million inhabitants.

Two weeks ago, governor Jerry Brown introduced emergency measures forbidding residents from watering lawns more than twice a week.

He has also prohibited fines that some communities and homeowner associations typically impose on people who let their lawns turn brown during the summer for tarnishing a neighbourhood's image.

Anne Phillips, owner of Go Green Gardeners hired by the Halls, said it was time to let go of what was considered the norm.

"You know the 50s, 60s image of the traditional ranch style home with the lawn and ... you know there is something maybe in our childhoods or whatever about the way our house should look," she said. "I think we just need to move beyond that."

For Phillips, the "cash for grass" programmes have proven a windfall, with a 30 per cent rise in business.

To make a garden more ecological, she replaces sprinklers, which result in a large amount of evaporation and water loss, with systems that are precisely placed and emit water sparingly.

In terms of plants, she favours succulents, herbs, lavender and agaves, among others.

"It isn't something that has to be just boring and unattractive and really dry looking," she said.

Dry or desert gardens are gaining ground in Los Angeles, especially in trendy parts of town, but are still not standard.

Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Centre for Sustainable Communities at the University of California Los Angeles, said she had received an anonymous letter asking her to remove her old-fashioned garden.

"But then, as I was starting to do it, a neighbour saw me and told me to 'stop! This is my favourite garden of the neighbourhood'."


Toledo, Ohio, residents told not to drink water due to contamination

Toxins, possibly from algae on Lake Erie, have fouled the Toledo water supply, triggering warnings not to drink it, and forcing the governor of Ohio state to declare a state of emergency.

Residents rushed supermarkets, quickly clearing shelves of bottled water.

The city advised about 400,000 residents in Toledo, most of its suburbs and a few areas in southeastern Michigan state not to brush their teeth with or boil the water because that would increase the toxin concentration.

Toledo issued the warning just after midnight after tests at one treatment plant showed two sample readings for microsystin above the standard for consumption.

Ohio Governor John Kasich's emergency order will allow the state to begin bringing water into the Toledo area.

City leaders were setting up water distribution centres, limiting families to one case of bottled water. Some stores that were receiving new shipments of water also put limits on how much people could buy.

Mayor Michael Collins pleaded with residents not to panic as there had been no reports yet of people becoming sick from drinking the water.

Samples of the contaminated water were flown to Environmental Protection Agency offices in Cincinnati and Columbus for additional testing and verification, officials said.

Police were called to stores as residents lined up to buy bottled water and bags of ice.

The city's advisory said Lake Erie may have been affected by a bloom of harmful algae that produces the toxin. Consuming the tainted water could result in vomiting, diarrhoea and other problems.

Associated Press