Orange Man Threatened with Jail for Going Green

I was surfing Google news recently and stumbled across an article that I found hard to believe: A resident in Orange, California, was facing the possibility of a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail because he removed the green-grass lawn from in front of his home and instead began planting drought-tolerant plants that use less water.

Apr 1st, 2010
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I was surfing Google news recently and stumbled across an article that I found hard to believe: A resident in Orange, California, was facing the possibility of a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail because he removed the green-grass lawn from in front of his home and instead began planting drought-tolerant plants that use less water.

In the process, he managed to cut his annual water consumption from more than 300,000 gallons to less than 60,000.

City of Orange officials said the man violated city law because less than 40 percent of his front yard was landscaped. The case was eventually dropped after the city reinspected the property and decided the man had planted enough landscaping to meet the letter of the law. But this came after extensive news coverage and a public-relations black eye for the city.

Given the issues southern California has with water scarcity, cities there should be rewarding residents who conserve water, not punishing them.

I really enjoy my green lawn and have no interest in replacing it with drought tolerant vegetation. Green lawns are nice to look at and provide a pretty good playground for the grandchildren when they visit. But I live in a city blessed by an abundant water supply and rarely have to irrigate my lawn. If I lived in a desert I can only hope my attitude would change.

Despite nice rains this winter, water in California is still in short supply. Many water agencies are rationing water or asking customers to conserve voluntarily. In some cases they are even paying customers to remove their lawns.

As an example, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power's "cash-for-grass" program last summer offered single-family homes $1 for every square foot of turf they replace with less thirsty alternatives. The LA program follows a model adopted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. In the last decade Las Vegas has removed more than 125 million square feet of grass, saving 7 billion gallons of water a year. That's almost one-tenth of southern Nevada's annual water supply.

Lawns not only guzzle water, but homeowners pollute the environment with their overzealous application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Add to this the carbon footprint and pollution generated by hundreds of thousands of lawnmowers, weed eaters and edgers, and replacing a lawn with drought tolerant native plants can only be a good thing for our world.

It's understandable that cities and homeowner groups want to maintain neighborhood standards, which in turn protects property values. I suspect that Orange man's neighbors weren't thrilled by his move. However, the days when Southern California could support endless acres of lush green lawns are over.

And what's true for California is true for many cities and towns across the arid Southwest and in other areas of the United States faced with water scarcity. We all need to live in harmony with our environment, and conserving water is a good first step.

James Laughlin, Editor

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