“We’re in a new era. The idea of your nice little green grass getting lots of water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past.”–Gov. Jerry Brown, April 2015
California often paves the way when it comes to new consumer and business trends. If the Recommendations Report to the Legislature on Landscape Water Use Efficiency by an Independent Technical Panel on Demand Management Measures that was presented to the California legislature last May is an indication, traditional horticultural practice, turfgrass and inefficient irrigation as we’ve known them in the past will be phased out.
Horticulture is the art, science and practice of growing plants that serve humans—whether those plants are for food consumption – such as fruit, vegetables, herbs, etc. – or ornamental plants that create our aesthetic and functional exterior spaces in the communities where we live.
One of the main takeaways from this report is that when it comes to the responsible use of public resources, like water in the future, there’s no room for rigid ideas about horticultural practice. The industry has been accustomed to fighting battles about the essential use of water in the landscape. This time it’s different.
Water is in limited supply in the West. Wisely using that limited supply is the future; using it to support “a cultural norm that originated in the English countryside is increasingly out of place in today’s California—let alone, in a more populous California with an even warmer climate in the years ahead,” as written in the report.
What does California’s future look like?
- Keeping rainwater on-site by infiltrating it into the ground to recharge aquifers or storing it for later use on the landscape.
- Using soils to manage rainwater, remove pollution and store carbon.
- Using water-wise plants in place of “ornamental turf” and high water use plants.
- Separating and measuring outdoor water use so that it can be monitored.
California’s 2 million acres of turf are endangered in the name of water efficiency. In the recent past, California has financed landscape conversions using public money. Lawn conversions have been popular. For instance, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California spent $300 million on turf removal.
But using public money to implement change on private land isn’t feasible in the long run. Instead mandated programs and regulation to force lower water use will be combined with incentives. Market demand created by evolving social norms will increase use of drought-tolerant and low-water plants. Better business practices and more efficient equipment and approaches by the landscape and irrigation industries will also drive change on private land. Outdoor landscape tax credits for doing the right thing may be in the future.
California is proving that functional, attractive landscapes are possible by embedding a watershed approach to the urban landscape through state and local policy.
NewTerrain August 29, 2016.