In Southern California alone, homeowners responding to the state’s four-year drought “are on track to remove over 170 million square feet of turf,” according to the Metropolitan Water District there. But not everyone believes turf removal is the most effective way to conserve water, especially in light of the adverse effects of doing away with lawns.
Kris Kiser, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), appreciates the fact that responding to the drought effectively is a major challenge. Nonetheless, he questions whether turf removal is sound public policy when one considers the long-term consequences of dispensing with natural grass.
In a recent statement, Kiser said academics are beginning to warn that the decrease in the amount of natural grass, coupled with an increase in the use of artificial turf, may hamper the landscape’s ability to absorb carbon from the air.
“Plastic grass gets hot. You have to hose it down with water to keep it cool. It exacerbates the heat-island effect,” Kiser said. “I mean, Sacramento, L.A. – you guys have an ocean of asphalt and concrete, and grass helps cool the air. And frankly, it’s a fire block.”
Instead of turf removal, Kiser recommends choosing varieties of natural grass that require little watering and allowing lawns go brown for some period of the year. With the possibility of an El Nino bringing more rain in the coming year, he says, the grass will come back.