As we are all aware, California is in a severe twenty-year drought and our water sustainability is under stress. One solution is xeriscape, the concept of planting native, water-tolerant plants. Meanwhile, our love affair with shallow-rooted, water-guzzling grass is not sustainable since much of the water for grass evaporates due to sprinkler irrigation.

Santa Monica is exempt from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) one-day per week outdoor watering limit since the City has spent $200 million for water supply projects. The City, however, is being mandated to add 9,000 new living units, all of which will require more water. Hence, the target of becoming water self-sufficient by 2030 may not be attainable. It gets worse if the areas served by MWD do not conserve enough and all outdoor watering is banned.

Outdoor watering is just one of the ways to control water use, but since the City owns a significant amount of grass landscaping, including parkways, it should consider more visible ways of reducing outdoor watering. Stringent water restriction will result in dead grass throughout the City, including parkways, definitely not an image the City should want to project.

We need a new mindset of what our publicly visible spaces need to look like. While the City has multiple programs to help conserve water, from mandatory building code regulations, to voluntary Cash for Grass and other programs, including grants for installation of water-efficient drip irrigation.

What else can the City do? Follow Nevada, which recently established a milestone in water conservation by passing a law requiring the removal of grass and sod from all residential and commercial sites in and around Las Vegas in favor of more water-friendly landscaping better suited for the desert. Incidentally, the Las Vegas’s Southern Nevada Water Authority recently added another, lower water intake from Lake Mead as the lake drops during the drought; the previous intake pipe was installed only 20 years ago. These intakes cost in excess of a $1 billion each!

Critical to understanding the rationale behind the new legislation is the distinction between “functional turfs” versus “nonfunctional turfs”. Functional turfs include areas such as athletic fields, cemeteries, and certain allowable parcels of housing and commercial developments. “Nonfunctional turfs” are those that serve only aesthetic purposes, such as grass planted on median strips, parkways, and in many residential developments.

As California residents struggle to adapt to a life that’s becoming increasingly impacted by climate change, population growth, and its associated increase in water usage, we can learn valuable lessons about proper water conservation from our desert-dwelling neighbors in Nevada.

I urge the City Council to direct City Staff to investigate the Nevada law and its potential implementation here. 

Roger Swanson, Santa Monica