It’s not your father’s artificial grass.
And it’s nothing like the carpeting on putting greens at your local miniature golf course. Whatever you remember about the preternatural turf from bygone days does not apply to the modern version.
Today’s artificial grass is hard to tell from the real thing. The blades are natural looking, it drains well, and best of all, it doesn’t need water or mowing. The benefits of artificial turf are hard to deny, especially in a drought-stricken state like California.
Live grass consumes about 55 gallons of water per square foot annually. This level of water consumption makes having a beautiful, green lawn all but impossible—even more so after municipalities began increasing water rates and the state instituted excessive-use penalties.
Governor Jerry Brown’s latest drought-related executive order earlier this year established a new water use efficiency framework for California. The order “bolstered the state’s drought resilience and preparedness by establishing longer-term water conservation measures that include permanent monthly water use reporting, new urban water use targets, reducing system leaks and eliminating clearly wasteful practices.”
A Man-Made Problem?
California is the most populous state in the country, and it is experiencing one of its worst droughts, now in its fifth year. The state has been hit by record-low precipitation between 2013 and 2014, coupled with record-high heat in 2014.In fact, scientific research suggests that the parched and hot period between 2012 and 2014 might be the worst in a millennium.
While there is still much debate about the causes of the extended drought, some believe the drought was caused in part by a mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean that has drifted closer to the West Coast recently. The warm water formation has persisted in about the same location for over three years and is about a thousand miles across and 300 feet deep.
Others contend that it is climate change, a warming of the earth brought on by human activities, which has intensified the California drought by fueling record-breaking temperatures that evaporated vital snow packs, converted snow to rain, and dried out soils.
It Could Last for Quite a While
Scientists at NASA and Cornell and Columbia Universities said climate models used for a study on the drought showed that there is an 80 percent chance of an extended drought between 2050 and 2099, lasting more than three decades if world governments fail to act aggressively to mitigate the effects of climate change.
But others point out that climate models have been wrong about California’s precipitation before, and they also have a history of being wrong about overall warming. These climate models, they say, have been behind the dire predictions and forceful actions of some political leaders, who have been “sounding a false alarm” and predicting about 2.2 times as much warming as actually occurred from 1998 to 2014.
It Means Californians Must Conserve Water
No matter what caused the drought or how long it might stick around, after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered mandatory water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history, it became the duty of every citizen of the state to conserve water.
Some communities have had to reduce consumption by as much as 36 percent. Lawns are a primary target because they account for more than a third of urban water use. As a result, some water districts are encouraging the use of artificial grass by including it in rebate programs offered to residents replacing natural grass.
A Brief History of Artificial Turf
A North Carolinian named David Chanygets the credit for heading up a team of researchers who created the first artificial turf in 1960. It was initially installed at a prep school in Rhode Island in 1964. But it was in 1966, when the artificial surface called AstroTurfwas laid in Houston’s Astrodome, that artificial grass came into prominence. The use of synthetic surfaces for sporting events became a common practice in the 1970s, and today there are thousands of them in stadiums—both indoor and outdoor– throughout the country.
But the application of artificial turf is no longer limited to sports stadiums. Since the early 1990s, the use of artificial grass in the mostly arid western states of the United States has moved beyond athletic fields to residential and commercial landscaping. And with the five-year drought in California and the corresponding efforts to remove natural grass from many areas in the state, artificial grass has become a go-to product for homeowners wanting to conserve water and still have a green lawn.
How Can Artificial Grass Contribute to Environmental Sustainability?
Think about what you need to maintain and beautify a typical lawn made up of real grass: fertilizers, mowing, and watering. None of these is friendly to the environment. Check out these telling statistics:
- American use 3 million metric tons of synthetic lawn fertilizer each year. It’s estimated that the equivalent of a barrel of oil goes into manufacturing 560 pounds of this fertilizer. It turns out that this is costing 11.8 million barrels of oil annually just to produce the fertilizer.
- Add another 75 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides.
- The average lawn in this country uses 20,000 gallons of water per year. If it’s planted in sandy soil, it drains more quickly and is even more wasteful.
- Improperly disposed of grass clippings often end up polluting major waterways.
- An hour’s worth of mowing produces emissions that are the equivalent of driving a car 93 miles.
Artificial grass is eco-friendly and requires none of the fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can pollute the environment. And it doesn’t need to be mowed or watered. In California, that means a green lawn is possible without depleting the dwindling water reserves. It also saves you time and money.
Is it Expensive?
If there is a complaint about artificial grass, and it’s that it doesn’t fit into everyone’s budget.
The cost of installing artificial grass is affected by some variables, including the type of turf, how much you want to cover, and where you live. Any rebates you can secure, however, will help offset some of your upfront costs. Cities and other municipalities may offer financial support for replacing your grass with artificial turf, so check in your area for details.
What many people are not aware of is that used turf and discounted artificial turf are an option for holding down the expense. The biggest benefit of using less expensive artificial turf is that it works with most budgets, giving more people an opportunity to conserve water.
But keep in mind that initial costs are just that—once and done. Artificial grass is an investment with an ongoing payback. The dividends are paid out in money saved on the maintenance supplies for real grass, time not spent on mowing and fertilizing, and water not used to keep the real grass green.
And remember, no matter where you live, the savings for not having to maintain real grass will apply, but if you happen to live in an area that has been experiencing a drought and the end of it is not yet in sight, conserving water has become your prime directive.
Artificial Grass is Versatile
If you’re living in a drought-plagued area of the country, you may not be looking beyond the water-conserving advantages of artificial turf. But it can be used to a homeowner’s benefit for other projects around the house:
- Outdoor kitchen: An outdoor kitchen near to your entertainment area will be comfortable for your feet, and it will withstand the weather without the maintenance or watering that natural grass requires.
- Pet areas: No more digging or mud. And it’s easy to clean.
- Around your pool: It’s durable, soft, and drains well, not to mention that it’s more attractive than stones.
- On your patio: Work it in with your patio blocks. No mowing or watering.
- Play area for the kids: While some Californians have chosen to take the cheaper route of planting low-water plants and succulents, a growing number of homeowners are declining sagebrush and deer grass for artificial turf.
“For people who want to play with their children–soccer, baseball, Frisbee–they can’t do that in a front yard with cactus. You’re going to get a needle in the rump,” said Ara Najarian, mayor of the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale.
Why the Rest of the Country Should be Concerned
How does a drought in California affect the rest of the United States? The answer is agriculture. Nearly half of the United States’ fruits and vegetables come from California. In 2014 alone, California lost over $1 billion in agricultural revenue, and 15,000 jobs were lost in the process. This affects both the national economy as well as the national food source.
It will take a multi-pronged approach to conserving California’s water and to get everyone onboard in cooperating with specific solutions that will collectively alleviate the water shortage. Swapping live grass for artificial turf is one of the prongs, and it’s one of the few that the average citizen can control.