By Ramon Gonzalez, TreeHugger
George Washington’s Mount Vernon was the first house in North America to incorporate a lawn into the landscape design. According to some estimates, 40 million acres of America are covered in turf grass in the 48 contiguous states, making turf grass our largest irrigated crop.
The Sobering Statistics
During the growing season, if lawns are watered and fertilized as recommended, we pour 238 gallons of water per person, per day onto all that turf during the growing season.
The EPA says that in the United States, 26 billion gallons of water are consumed on a daily basis. Approximately 7.8 billion gallons of the water consumed on a daily basis are devoted to irrigation. Your typical suburban lawn consumes 10,000 gallons of water above annual rainfall.
That is a lot of water when you consider that humans can use less than 1% of all the water on Earth.
How much water can you conserve by replacing your lawn with a garden?
A couple of years after starting my outdoor garden, the water connection to the outside broke and I never fixed it. It turned out to be a blessing, because up until then I did not realize how much water I wasted.
It wasn’t until I was watering grass with a watering can that the severity of the situation dawned on me. Little by little, I replaced the drying turf with plants until there were only a few square feet of it left.
Surviving on Rainfall
Today, everything that grows in the ground in my garden has to survive on rainfall. That includes the annuals, perennials, spring blooming bulbs and summer blooming bulbs—and even a healthy dose of weeds. I didn’t set out to be a water conservationist — it just happened.
America’s obsession with lawns has unfortunately made victims of some who have purposefully set out to conserve water.
When Removing Your Lawn is a Crime
In 2010, Quan and Angelina Ha were charged with a misdemeanor violation and ordered to appear in court. Their crime? They removed their lawn in Orange, California and replaced it with woodchips and drought-tolerant plants like lavender, rosemary, horsetail and pittosporum. According to the Los Angeles Times article, they reduced their water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009.
How much water you are wasting keeping a lawn depends on the region you live in and what type of grass you are growing.
Kentucky blue grass, the most common turf outside of the Southern United States, requires a lot of water. St. Augustine grass is prone to succumbing to pests and diseases, and Bermudagrass needs constant maintenance to keep it looking clean and can be invasive.
Instead of trying to keep a lawn alive during this drought, why not plant a garden? Either an ornamental garden that beautifies your neighborhood and provides habitat for wildlife, or a vegetable garden that you can feed yourself from—both are better alternatives.
Take advantage of the effects of our current drought to examine where you can remove turf on your property, and you’ll start to see a reduction in the amount of water you use.
You have to wonder, if George Washington knew that the trend he was starting would lead to so much wasted water, if he would have opted for something other than an expansive lawn at Mount Vernon.