Board supports permanent ban of grass that is not regularly used for recreation,
With drought and climate change stressing water availability, the Metropolitan Water District is taking steps to eliminate an all-too-common sight in Southern California that uses up valuable water resources – ornamental grass that serves no recreational or community purpose – grass known as non-functional turf.
Metropolitan’s Board of Directors last Tuesday (Oct. 11) adopted a resolution that strongly recommends cities and water agencies across Southern California pass ordinances permanently prohibiting the installation and irrigation of non-functional turf. The board’s call is largely directed at both existing and new commercial, industrial and public properties, as well as HOAs, rather than residential properties. It does, however, call for local regulations that don’t allow installation of non-functional turf in new home construction.
“More than half of all water used in Southern California is used outdoors for irrigation, much of it for grass that is not walked or played on or used in any meaningful way. Sustaining ornamental grass is not a good use of our precious water resources,” Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said.
Metropolitan has for more than a decade incentivized residents and businesses to replace their grass lawns with more water-efficient landscaping. That turf replacement program, which today offers a base rebate of $2 per square foot of grass replaced, has directly resulted in the removal of more than 200 million square feet of grass, saving enough water to serve 62,000 homes annually. In addition, a recent study found that for every 100 homes that converted their yards using a Metropolitan rebate, an additional 132 nearby homes were inspired to convert their own grass without receiving a rebate to help fund the projects. This “multiplier effect” more than doubled the value of Metropolitan’s $351 million investment in making Southern California more sustainable.
“Through our turf rebate and California Friendly® and native plant gardening education programs, we’ve jumpstarted the movement to change the landscape of Southern California. But we must do more,” Chairwoman Gloria D. Gray said.
“We are experiencing unprecedented drought conditions in California and on the Colorado River – straining both of our imported water supplies. And the reality of climate change means that these alarming conditions are likely to become more common and more severe. We need to find ways to permanently live with less water,” she added.
California is in the midst of the driest three years on record, resulting in the lowest-ever deliveries from the State Water Project, which on average supplies 30 percent of the water used in Southern California. The constraints on that supply have left 6 million people in the region without enough water to meet normal demands, requiring unprecedented mandatory conservation.
On the Colorado River – Southern California’s other principal imported water supply – a decades-long drought has left the system’s reservoirs at their lowest-ever levels. The federal government has responded with a call for immediate and dramatic cutbacks in water use.
Elimination of non-functional turf is becoming an increasingly valuable tool to quickly and permanently decrease water use. In response to California’s drought, the State Water Resources Control Board issued an emergency regulation temporarily banning the irrigation of non-functional turf with potable water from June 2022 to June 2023. And in August, Metropolitan joined urban water agencies across the Colorado River Basin to sign a Memorandum of Understanding committing to reducing non-functional turf.
“We need to permanently reduce the amount of water used on non-functional turf. That is why we are calling on cities and agencies to adopt relevant ordinances that will work with the particular circumstances of their communities,” Hagekhalil said. “At the same time, Metropolitan will continue providing cash incentives so that grass is not simply paved over, rather it is replaced with water-efficient landscaping to ensure our trees continue thriving and our communities remain beautiful and ecologically diverse.”
The resolution approved Tuesday specifically calls for cities and agencies to pass ordinances that permanently: prohibit the use of potable water to irrigate non-functional turf in existing and new non-residential properties; prohibit the installation of non-functional turf in non-residential and new residential properties; and require the removal of all non-functional turf in non-residential properties by a certain date. Non-functional turf is defined as specific kinds of grasses irrigated by potable water that are not regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civic or community events.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a state-established cooperative that, along with its 26 cities and retail suppliers, provides water for 19 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.