California Couple Tries to Conserve Water, Ends Up Facing $500 Fine for Brown Lawn

Written by Kiley Kroh

As California’s severe drought deepens and officials look to reduce water consumption in every possible way, the state appears to be sending mixed signals as to which water-related activity is the most egregious.

The entirety of California is currently experiencing drought conditions and more than 80 percent of the state is classified as an extreme drought. Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, have been trying to conserve water in their Glendora, California home by cutting back on lawn watering, taking shorter showers, and doing larger loads of laundry. Now, they are facing a fine of up to $500 for not keeping their lawn green.

Survey results from the State Water Resources Control Board found that instead of achieving the 20 percent water reduction sought by Gov. Jerry Brown, water use actually jumped one percent this May, compared to the same period in previous years. As a result, the board voted unanimously this week to impose the first mandatory water restrictions on California residents. The regulations seek to curb water use among urban residents by banning wasteful outdoor watering, such as over-watering lawns, hosing down sidewalks or driveways, and washing cars without a shut-off nozzle on the hose. Violators could face a fine of up to $500.

“Our goal here is to light a fire under those who aren’t yet taking the drought seriously,” water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus told the Associated Pressafter the vote.

On the same day the state approved the mandatory water restrictions, Whitney and Korte received a letter from the city threatening a fine for not sufficiently watering their brown lawn.

“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” the letter reads. The couple were given 60 days to restore the lawn or be slapped with a fine ranging from $100 to $500, Reuters reported.

“My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” Whitneytold the Associated Press. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”

According to the Contra Costa Water Board, lawn care is typically the single biggest water user for the average property and a 500-square-foot lawn can use more than 18,000 gallons of water per year. Among their tips for maintaining a lawn while in the midst of drought conditions: “Be willing to accept a less than lush lawn during the drought.”

Similarly, state water board Chairwoman Marcus told residents this week that “a brown lawn should be a badge of honor because it shows you care about your community.” However, Glendora City Manager Chris Jeffers told Reuters that Whitney and Korte’s lawn had deteriorated so severely, the city was receiving reports of a possible abandoned property.

Gov. Brown signed an executive order in April stating homeowners associations could not punish residents for scaling back on landscaping but the Associated Press notes that neither the order nor recent legislation awaiting the governor’s signature address fines imposed by city governments.

As California endures its third straight year of drought conditions, some in the state see a slow shift away from the water-guzzling traditional lawns that were once a symbol of wealth. “We’re on the cusp of change. It’s definitely here,” Kevin Carson, Northern California president for The New Home Co., told the Sacramento Bee earlier this year. Cities like Davis are insisting on drought-tolerant landscaping for new developments and others, like Sacramento and Roseville, instituted programs that pay residents to switch from grass to plants that use less water.

And according to Lisa Brown, Roseville’s water conservation manager, the program was a big hit with residents: “We had a line outside the door the morning we started.”

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

Photo Credit: Diane Main via Flickr


Christine Jones
Christine J1 years ago

Seems like they can't win. I live in Western Australia where it gets baking hot and although it'd be nice to have a lush, green lawn, I just let it die. The tough bits bounce back in winter anyway. You have to garden appropriately for your climate.

Carole R.
Carole R2 years ago

Fined if your lawn isn't green?! I never heard of such a thing. I'm glad I don't live in California. I would hate being so controlled on my own property. That ordinance needs to be changed, especially in drought conditions.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe3 years ago

This is a case of 'damned if you do water, and damned if you don't.'

janet t.
janet t3 years ago

We need some really large education campaign to teach people to plant yards with drought resistant plants in designs that look good. Why spend money and water on lawns when trees with some kind of ground cover planted below would thrive with no water and provide shade for the house. A lawn looks nice but really does not provide any benefit for the homeowner.

Marcia Geiger
Marcia Geiger3 years ago

This may seem sill, but how about using food coloring to color the lawn. At least it will be green! Kudos for them for trying to save water.

With the drought enabling forest fires, the last thing that I would want to do would be to water my lawn! Where are their brains.

Bill and Katie Dresbach
Katie & Bill D3 years ago

Yes this sure is different it's your yard and you pay the water Bill!
Maybe some one should get to town meetings and get into office or on the city council and change things!!
Thank you

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

In other words, you can water your lawn ands get a fine or you can let it turn brown and get a fine. What the heck do they want people to do? This is so stupid.

James Fisher

Does the state of California govern such things as when you go to the toilet and the colour of your waste deposited there?

James Fisher

So that is the way things are done in California (Is that ex muscle-head still the governor well that just about says it all . Once again I am proud to be British even though we have a tosser for P.M. who blames the lower paid for austerity measures. At least our green and pleasant land is just about still That! Let's hope we can keerp the fgrackers off our land and TTIP does not go ahead as your president would have it which would disempowser the people further.

cathie S.
cathie S3 years ago

Well that is California for ya they get up in your business and one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing, I hate all the stupid laws there that is why me moved out of there 2 years ago California is a world all its own. Thank God we don't have to deal with the BS no longer.