Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, thought they were being good citizens when they chose to conserve water during drought season in Southern California.
Rather than watering their lawn daily, they cut down to twice a week in order to not waste water. Instead of being congratulated, though, the couple received a threat from the city of Glendora. If their lawn isn’t greener in 60 days, they will receive a $500 fine.
Whitney and Korte received the city’s notice on the same day that the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions, and their situation represents that of many Californians, who find themselves between a rock and a hard place, or in this case, a green lawn.
“Despite the water conservation efforts, we wish to remind you that limited watering is still required to keep landscaping looking healthy and green,” reads the letter given to the couple by the city of Glendora. On the other hand, there’s the state’s water board, whose chairwoman, Felicia Marcus, has said that, “a brown lawn should be a badge of honor because it shows you care about your community.”
These conflicting messages are highlighting a struggle that California as a whole is experiencing. Even though the state wants to conserve water, it is also dealing with many areas where attractive neighborhoods and lawns are prioritized. In spite of the drought, water use in California has actually increased 1% in comparison to past years. The state board has authorized $500 a day fines for water wasters.
The governor’s office has condemned the type of treatment Whitney and Korte have received from their city, saying that these cities and neighborhoods, in attempting to fine for brown laws, are ignoring how they contribute to a statewide crisis.
There is currently a bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature that will help to stop this practice, and the state is additionally encouraging homeowners to invest in drought-resistant landscaping, which involves local plants and hardy greens, like cacti, which don’t whither up without constant watering.
“You really only need to water lawns once a week, and only for about an hour in each spot for a healthy lawn,” says Don Saunders, President of Saunders Landscape Supply. “You don’t want to water frequently for short durations, otherwise the water stays towards the top of the soil and the roots consequently end up towards the top too. Once a week watering helps the roots to be at the proper depth in the soil.”
“If you have an ordinance that says you must have green grass when the governor calls a drought, then you shouldn’t be able to fine people,” said assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, who is also working on a bill that would prohibit local agencies from fining for brown lawns.