City Sues Homeowner for Not Wasting Enough Water on Lawn

A couple in Orange, California have been threatened with a lawsuit from the city–because they tore up their water-wasting lawn and replaced it with wood chips and drought-resistant plants.  The Los Angeles Times reports that Quan and Angelina Ha reduced their annual water usage from 299,221 gallons in 2007 to 58,348 gallons in 2009: an 80% savings. The city says the Has are not in compliance with an ordinance requiring 40% plant coverage. On Tuesday Quan Ha pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor for violating county codes.

Sometimes when people have kids of their own,they  start to question the kind of world they will leave to their children and children’s children. Mr. Ha explains: “We’ve got a newborn, so we want to start worrying about her future.”  Not only is the non-lawn saving tens of thousands of gallons of scarce water, but it is also saving the family hundreds of dollars a year.  Should they be sued for not complying with an outdated, even harmful, suburban aesthetic ideal?

A California Public Policy Institute report estimates that outdoor water use accounts for more than half of all residential water demand. Ironically the Ha family, by removing their lawn, are actually abiding by the recommendations of the state water agency. The State of California’s Water Use Efficiency website urges conservation efforts, including:”Water-efficient landscape designs using low water-use plants” and “Minimized turf areas.” Just what the Has had done.

Water is a key political and economic issue in California, as in other parts of the Southwest.  The state has endured three consecutive years of drought and reservoirs are low. There is ongoing wrangling between agricultural and residential water interests, and concern grows that water will be the new oil, a conflict-prone linchpin and threat for the long-term viability of the state.  While legal compliance is important, surely common sense is more so. Let’s hope this ridiculous charge is dropped in favor of responsible behavior, especially behavior that considers the needs of generations to come.

Photo: Brad Wieland, Studio A Inc. via iStockphoto


Monica K.
Monica K6 years ago

Down with lawns! They are wasteful water hogs, chemical hogs, expensive and useless! Lawns didn't even come into common use in this country until the 1800's and then they were just sort of a status symbol, aping the European estates of the very wealthy. They are a fad that has outlived it's time! What is so disturbing to me about these articles is the amount of control over homeowners that cities, counties and homeowners associations appear to exert! I can understand ordinances that say you can't have a giant weed patch full of defunct cars and washing machines on your property, or that you can't have chickens and a milk cow in your 1/16 acre front yard, but they can tell you how tall your plants must be, what kind of plants they must be, how much can be non-grass plants? In many places, they can tell you what colors you can paint your house and which part of your property you can fenced! No wonder our communities look like miles of cookie cutter properties! What obsessive compulsive control freaks came up with these rules in the first place and who let them?

wesley a.
wes Allen6 years ago

There has been water shortages for awhile in the southwestern U.S. and these idiots do this.

Syd Henley
Syd H7 years ago

Do the people who make these stupid rules and laws, not have a single working brain cell between them.

Kristen R.
Kristen R9 years ago

Only in America.

Janice P.
Janice P9 years ago

I recently discovered another avenue for proliferating water waste. When my mother was in the hospital, I was paying all of her bills. Her water bill is always much higher than mine. (She lived in St. Louis City, and I live in St. Louis County.) I thought the difference was merely the rate differences between the city and the county, but I discovered the real reason for the difference after she died. No one has been in her house for almost 7 months. Her water bill is still very high, so I called St. Louis City Water Department, to inquire about it. I told them that her bill should be almost non-existent, given that no one has been in her house and using water. They explained to me that the city is on a "fixed rate", that it is always the same, no matter how much or how little you use. This is insane. (St. LouisCounty is on a metered rate, charging for the amount of water you actually use.)

My mother's next door neighbor has a big swimming pool and a big hot tub in his backyard. They are always full. Even when my mother was still alive, she used comparatively little water. The result of this kind of billing practice is that it not only makes the smaller family subsidize the larger family, but it encourages a lot of water usage. I don't think St. Louis City - and other cities like it - understand the idea of conservation and limited resources. How do the water districts in your area charge? Are their rate methods in accordance wit conservation or waste?

Rajee Seetharam
Rajee Seetharam9 years ago

Thanks Nancy! Nice read!

Trish H.
Anne H9 years ago

The title of the article is a bit deceiving. The situation is following the process needed to make changes. Thank you to the Ha's for being a part of that change. Hopefully the neighbors accept the changes and rally behind the Ha's, the city should drop the charges.

Ruth Barrett
Ruth Barrett9 years ago

Weird. We have water restrictions down here - watering lawns is banned entirely. You can water your garden between the hours of 6 and 8 am on two allocated days a week. Some housing developments specify that only hardy indigenous plants are allowed to be planted in the gardens. The Ha's would be welcome here.

Brit Wertz
Britney Stafford9 years ago

There are doing no harm. This is beneficial.

Barb F.
Barb F9 years ago

I'm in absolute agreement,
i read about this a while back! why put senseless, subjective aestheticism ahead of thrift, ecology, and practicality? don't *sue* these people. sing their praises! give them their own PBS special! let them teach a class so that others may follow their example!