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Grass Is Good For the Environment

Although it would seem unnecessary to state the obvious, grass is good! Just like trees and other plants, it supports and enhances the environment. But, with the current hyper-focus on water use, grass has become the subject of undeserved environmental criticism. Of course grass uses water, but so do all other plants. Despite the voices of its critics, here are some of the good things grass does with water.

Grass Reduces Greenhouse Gas
Grass absorbs greenhouse gas and converts it into life-giving oxygen. Grass does this at a much higher rate than native plants because grass has higher leaf density and a faster growth rate. A 2500 square foot lawn converts enough carbon dioxide into oxygen to sustain a family of four!

Grass Is Nature's Air Conditioner
Trees seem to get all the credit for naturally cooling the air because they provide shade, but grass lowers surface temperatures through "evapotranspiration" which is a process similar to that used by old-fashioned evaporative coolers ("swamp coolers") for home air conditioning. On a hot summer day, lawns will typically be 30 degrees cooler than asphalt, 14 degrees cooler than bare soil and a huge 35 degrees cooler than artificial turf! Aside from just creating a comfortable setting, grass also reduces energy demand by lowering the ambient temperature around a home.

Grass Purifies Water
Turf (grass) roots act as a natural environmental filter, and in combination with soil biology make lawn root zones an ideal medium for the biodegradation of contaminants that are carried in runoff water.

Grass Purifies the Air
Grass absorbs particulates and some of the worst atmospheric pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and ozone.

Grass Provides Urban Habitat
We think of cities as places where people live, but they are also places where native birds and animals reside. Landscapes provide the habitat and forage areas for our wildlife co-inhabitants. Turf is a highly productive forage area for birds and small mammals.

How Grass Compares To the Alternatives

House with lawn
Garden

Native Plants
Native plants may be able to survive on less water than grass, but they produce fewer environmental benefits. All plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. The rate at which this conversion takes place is a function of leaf surface area and growth rate. Lawn grasses have far higher leaf densities and growth rates than native California plants. Hence, lawns such as genuine Marathon Sod absorb more greenhouse gas and cool the surroundings better than native plants.

Lawns also provide fire protection and erosion control better than native plants do. Native plants provide little or no aesthetic improvement or habitat enhancement for people, while grass provides numerous advantages.

Grass also provides an attractive recreational surface. If grass lawns are removed, will children and pets be forced to play on a patch of native shrubs and bark?

Artificial Turf
It is ridiculous to suggest that artificial turf is more environmentally friendly than real grass. Plastic turf is a petroleum product, so consider the carbon footprint and pollution generated to manufacture it! No artificial lawn will last forever, so the cost and the pollution created to replace it and dispose of the old material must also be recognized. Artificial lawns may not "use" water, but they certainly must be washed off periodically to clean away dust and dirt, and to be sanitized of pet waste. The runoff of the dirty and unsanitary water from cleaning an artificial lawn winds up entering the sewer systems, or draining directly to the ocean. Except for not requiring water to stay alive, artificial turf produces absolutely no environmental benefits.

Artificial turf provides no urban habitat enhancement or support for birds and small mammals, in fact it destroys it.

As a recreational surface, artificial turf has some serious flaws. It is certainly not "barefoot friendly." On a hot summer day, its surface temperature will actually be hotter than asphalt making it a very inhospitable place for sports, recreation or relaxing. In fact, in warm climates artificial sports fields are cooled with a dousing of water prior to games. Also, studies show that more injuries, particularly abrasions, are sustained on artificial turf fields.

Cool and comfortable
 
Marathon Sod: Cool and Comfortable
Hotter Than Asphalt
 
Artificial Turf: Hotter Than Asphalt

Genuine
Compared To the Alternatives

 
Marathon Sod
Native Plants
Artificial Grass
Greenhouse Gas Reduction
High
Low
None
Air Purification
High
Low
None
Water Purification
High
Low
None
Cooling
High
Low
None
Fire Protection
High
Low
None
Habitat
High
High
None
Recreational Surface
High
None
Moderate
Surface Temperature
Low
Moderate
High
Cost
Low
Moderate
High


Lawn and House

An Even Greener Marathon Lawn


Mowing Lawn
Lawns are sometimes characterized as being polluters because they require mowing and fertilizing. Consider the facts:

Mowing

The criticism of mowing lawns is that the exhaust from lawn mowers produces more pollutants than the photosynthesis of the growing grass purifies. This criticism is unfairly applied to lawns, yet is rarely heard in regard to trees and leaf blowers. Certainly, gasoline powered mowers produce hydrocarbon exhaust but gas mowers are not the only way to mow a lawn. Cordless battery powered electric mowers are coming of age.
And if one wanted to combine a little fresh air and exercise, there is nothing wrong with an old-fashioned push mower!

It may be time to rethink the mower (such as the Black & Decker CM1836)...not the lawn. Be sure to specify a mulching blade. It will shred the clippings and turn them into mulch. That way, you can eliminate green waste while simultaneously providing nutrients to your lawn

Organic Lawn Food Coming Soon










Fertilizing

Plants need food, and lawns are no exception. Chemical fertilizers are sometimes criticized as contributing to groundwater pollution. However, studies have shown the contrary to be true. Lawns are very effective at absorbing fertilizers as they pass through the root zone, whether they are chemical or organic. While chemical fertilizers have been the traditional lawn food, organic fertilizers can be equally effective in maintaining a healthy lawn.















How Much Water Does A Lawn Need?

Watering

Lawns need less water than most people apply. In fact, in any given week lawns need about the same amount of water necessary to top off a swimming pool in the same climate in the same week. Basically, lawns, including Marathon Sod, require an amount of water equal to evaporation replacement.

Why Are Lawns Said To Use Too Much Water?
Lawns are often over-watered. Almost everyone has seen water running down the gutter from someone's lawn sprinklers. But, it is not the lawn's fault that sprinklers are left on too long and water is wasted. The real challenge is watering a lawn correctly.

Typically, sprinkler timers are set by trial and error to a schedule that provides enough water during the hottest weather conditions and therefore turn on too frequently and stay on for too long during cooler times. As a result, lawns have gotten an undeserved reputation for using a lot of water when it is actually a matter of improper settings on the sprinkler timer.

Figuring Out the Correct Sprinkler Run Time
The amount of water a lawn needs is equal to moisture lost through evaporation. The formula for determining sprinkler run time and number of days per week is: evaporation divided by sprinkler precipitation rate equals sprinkler run time. Realistically, few people have the time or the interest to go through the calculations and timer adjustments every week to keep pace with changing weather. In the past, the easy answer to keeping a lawn green was to set the timer on high and if there was runoff, so what? Now with rationing there are fines to be paid.

How Much Does It Cost To Water Your Lawn?

Water companies typically bill by the "unit." One unit is equal to one HCF (100 cubic feet or about 750 gallons). Units vary widely in cost depending on your water company and whether the rate structure is tiered. Some rates start as low as $1.00 per unit and the high end goes up to $5.50 per unit. In Southern California, a typical 1000 sq. ft. lawn requires about 0.9 unit per week during the warm season, or about 40 units per year. That equates to between $40.00 and $220.00 for one year's worth of water. Even at the highest water rates it would require over 30 years to pay for an artificial lawn with water savings. Today, either sprinkler timers must be monitored and adjusted on a regular basis, or new technology can be used to make watering even more efficient.

Sprinkler Controller


Technology to the Rescue
Recognizing the need for water conservation, modern communication and computer technology have been applied to sprinkler timers. These new generation "smart devices" are called Weather Based Controllers. They are computerized sprinkler timers that are wirelessly connected to weather stations in your area. The computer is programmed with your own sprinkler system and soil types, and everything else is automated. The computer turns on the sprinklers as necessary for exactly the right amount of time depending on real-time weather data.


Time to Get Rid Of The Lawn, Or To Get The Irrigation Right?
Those who sell water are promoting lawn elimination programs as a water conservation strategy. Such programs are not unlike "throwing the baby out with the bath water." Lawns have innumerable environmental and quality of life benefits, and eliminating lawns eliminates those benefits. Watering lawns correctly is the "win-win" solution and weather-based controllers are the easiest way to accomplish it.

Remembering How Lawns Use Water
Once again, lawns use water through evaporation and transpiration. The water that is used needs to be replaced in order for the lawn to survive. Water evaporates faster nearer the surface, so the deeper and stronger the root system of the lawn, the less (or more slowly) the lawn is affected by evaporation and the less frequently water is required to keep it healthy and green.

California

The

    Politics

       of Water

          in California

 

 

Only three percent* of California's water goes to residential landscapes (out of a total of eleven percent for all urban uses). Forty-eight percent goes to the environment and forty-one percent is delivered to agriculture.** Most of California's rain and snowfall is in the northern half of the state. The California Aqueduct brings water from the north to the south.

In 2008, a federal judge ruled, in a suit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, that pumping water out of the Sacramento Delta into the California Aqueduct had an adverse effect on the habitat of a small endangered fish called the Delta Smelt. The judge ordered a thirty percent reduction in the volume of water pumped into the Aqueduct, resulting in a thirty percent reduction to farmers and most water purveyors in Southern California. In response, the urban purveyors imposed higher rates, fines, and landscape water rationing. Their focus has been on landscape conservation directed primarily at the elimination or reduction of lawn areas. The judge's ruling has been appealed, bringing forth evidence of invasive predatory species (striped bass) and sewer discharges from Sacramento as potential major contributors to the Delta Smelt's decline. However, scientists have not been able to determine which factors are the primary causes of the fish's population decrease. It is assumed that diverting water from the Delta into Southern California's aqueduct is at least contributing to the problem. Hence, Southern California water users are being punished as though guilty until proven innocent. While Southern California's water flows into San Francisco Bay, Northern Californians are unaffected. As a matter of fact, many view the current deadlock as beneficial to the reliability of "their" supply. Politically, environmental extremists, parochial Northern Californians, and Delta farmers hold the balance of power and are using the Endangered Species Act to promote their self-interest.

It is important to keep in mind that residential landscapes use only three percent of California's water. Eliminating every lawn, shrub and tree in residential areas will have no significant impact on the water situation, yet neighborhoods would be as barren as a desert.

 
A Drop in the Bucket
Statewide Distribution Of Water**
 
48% Environment Water useage Chart
41% Agriculture
 
11% Urban
(includes 3% for residential landscapes*)
 
Your water rates have been raised and rationing and fines have been imposed. Traditional beautiful Southern California landscapes are in jeopardy of being sacrificed on the altar of a tiny fish. To compensate for this man-made water shortage, purveyors are promoting "native" plants and artificial turf as environmentally correct substitutes for lawns and other lush plants. They have even hired "water cops" to cite "illegal" sprinkling. Ironically, lawns are environmental benefactors, not detractors, as we have shown on the previous pages.

If you are not ready to accept a future of rising rates, blistering hot plastic lawns and drab shrubs, tell your city council, water purveyor, state legislators and governor to do their job and fight for your water. Tell them to put people first and fulfill their fundamental responsibility to provide a reliable, adequate, and affordable water supply.

This can be done by approving and funding supply projects such as desalination, and purchasing water from marginal agricultural producers and ultimately the construction of a Delta bypass canal. The solution is not to continue to punish homeowners with rationing and the imposition of undesirable design requirements. It is past time to direct efforts to achieve a permanent supply solution to meet present and future needs of all of California's residents.
* California Urban Water Conservation Council       
** Figures from the California Department of Water Resources Water Plan Highlights 2005