Lawn and Order

August 24, 2014 – By: AP — (A follow-up of our August 4th Vol. XL, Art. 15 commentary, “Pitching a Ditch”) – “As California faces an historic drought, more residents are … tearing out thirsty lawns to cut down on water use. Water agencies across the state have been encouraging the change by offering thousands of dollars in rebates to help homeowners make the switch to a drought-friendly landscape with better odds of surviving dry spells common to the local climate.

“The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which covers 19 million people, received requests to remove 2.5 million square feet in residential lawns in July, up from 99,000 in January, said Bill McDonnell, the consortium’s water efficiency manager.

“The Municipal Water District of Orange County is taking in 20 to 30 applicants a day, up from just five a week before Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency earlier this year. ‘We are just buried right now,’ said Joe Berg, the agency’s water efficiency programs manager.

“The trend isn’t just catching on in Southern California. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which serves Silicon Valley, received more than 1,700 requests for applications for turf removal rebates during the first six months of the year, a five-fold increase from the same period in 2013, said Marty Grimes, a district spokesman.

“Water officials hope the shift is more than a fad and marks the beginning of a transformation in the way residents view neighborhood landscapes. Most lawns in Southern California don’t bear greenery other than grass but water agency officials say the interest in turf removal programs – fueled in part by an increase in rebate rates – is encouraging.

“‘Twenty years from now, the ideal thing is, you take your dog for a walk in the neighborhood and the guy who has grass on his yard would be the abnormal yard,’ McDonnell said, adding that more than 21 million square feet of turf have been removed in Metropolitan’s six-county service area since the incentives began.

“For many years, water agencies focused on improving the efficiencies of indoor plumbing, where installing a low-flush toilet, for example, would have guaranteed results. Not so with gardening, which relies on residents to turn off the sprinklers or hose to save water, Berg said.

“Now, agencies are turning their attention to outdoor uses, which make up the majority of water consumption in some residential areas, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. Most are encouraging the use of drought-friendly plants, though some also allow synthetic turf.

“Residents who remove their lawns not only weed out mowing and fertilizing costs but also save on water. In Long Beach, which began its turf replacement program four years ago, residents have cut their water bills by about 20 percent, said Matthew Lyons, director of planning and conservation for the city’s water department.

“Ripping out a 1,000 square-foot front lawn in Long Beach saves about 21,000 gallons of water a year, and amounts to roughly $ 86 in annual savings on homeowners’ water and sewage bills, he said.

“The city, which requires participants to cover at least 65 percent of the landscape with plantings, has funded more than 1,300 projects to date.

“For years, conservation advocates have urged residents to plant drought-friendly landscapes but previously saw few takers. Many homeowners thought the gardens would be dry, dusty and filled with prickly cactus until they saw neighbors creating landscapes with lush evergreens and California lilacs, said Lil Singer, director of special projects and adult education at the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants.

“Until recently, they also had little financial incentive to make the switch.

“While the rebate – which runs from $ 2 to $ 3.50 a square-foot in Southern California – helps cover the cost of replacing lawns, some homeowners said they spent far more to hire landscape designers and carve out decks, walkways and sitting areas to create a new outdoor space. And while a garden may need less maintenance than a lawn, there’s still weeding and pruning to be done.

“For some families, a grassy lawn serves a purpose by giving young children a place to play, Berg said.

“Some residents have resorted to spray painting their lawns to keep up appearances until they can overhaul the landscape or the drought eases. The vegetable-based dye lasts only a few months, but lets them stop watering.

“‘This is a much more cost-effective option for now,’ said Mara Tapia, who paid $ 350 to paint the parched front yard of her suburban Los Angeles home until she can save enough money for artificial turf.

“But for those who are tired of seemingly futile efforts to prevent grass from browning under the summer sun, tearing out a lawn has its pluses. Building a circle of trees around his home gave one man some privacy from his busy street in Long Beach – except for the colorful butterflies and humming birds now apt to visit.

“‘You’re not going to get butterflies with a lawn,’ he said, adding that they fluttered through the front yard on the first day he planted. ‘So it’s kind of a win-win situation.’” —

So anyway, what’s the drought hullabaloo ‘way over in Southern California got to do with our concerns over maritime industry woes, or the American Marine Highway Program, or U.S. shipbuilding, or container yards, or our tailspinning economy?

Everything. Review our 1982 proposal to President Reagan (Vol. XXVII, Art. 25). Dry, dusty California would now be a lush tropical Paradise if the advice we offered had been heeded.

Here’s the GENERAL STATEMENT we sent to President Reagan on March 15, 1982:

“I propose that the U.S. Government begin construction of a canal along the U.S.-MEXICAN border, connecting the GULF OF MEXICO with the PACIFIC OCEAN.

“This canal will be approximately 1,600 miles long and ½ mile wide, will provide a continuous coast line for the U.S., and will be able to accommodate the largest ocean-going vessels.

“At least eight major cities and 15 seaports will be required on the U.S. side of the canal along with similar facilities on MEXICO’s side. Fifty or more bridges will be required to handle the flow of traffic and commerce between the newly-developed regions in southwestern U.S. and northern MEXICO.

“Low-lying areas can be transformed into man-made lakes and reservoirs by means of flooding and the use of aqueducts. A rainy regime in place of the present heat regime will be the natural consequence of this action, and lush vegetation and a more temperate climate will prevail over what is now hot, arid wasteland.

“Approximately two dozen underground power plants will provide electricity and water to the U.S. communities. These dual-purpose facilities should be patterned along the lines of the nuclear desalinization plant at SHEVCHENKO on the northeast shore of the CASPIAN SEA. At least a billion gallons of fresh water each day will be provided to the region, and much of it would be used for irrigation. Thousands of acres of land will be made arable, and the coming food crisis will be postponed indefinitely.

“The availability of fresh water through such desalinization plants will make it possible for SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, and other areas, to avoid the expected water shortages in the coming years.

“The development of this region will require airports, transportation and freight terminals, manufacturing facilities, commercial and residential structures, and high-speed trains linking the new southwestern cities with those on both coasts and in the Midwest.

“This project will require the resources of several hundred of the nation’s largest contractors. Supporting facilities and firms throughout the country will be fully engaged for many years.

“The project will bring employment to millions who are presently jobless. Increased revenues and reduced welfare obligations will enable the federal government to balance the budget, amortize the national debt, restructure Social Security and maintain the nation’s defenses.” —

So that’s the GENERAL STATEMENT we sent to President Reagan. Did we miss anything? Food, electricity, water, jobs, affordable transportation facilities, a balanced budget, amortization of the national debt – every potential disaster anticipated and averted. And, yes – this “project” would have put the kibosh on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. How different life would be today!