Monday, February 23, 2009

Should city folks kill their lawns for farmers?

At the Bureau of Reclamation press conference on Central Valley Project water allocations on Friday in Redding, Calif., farmer Helen Stephenson asserted that city dwellers need to understand "the importance of letting some of those lawns go."

The idea has sparked some debate over at, where I used to blog. Marc Beauchamp asks:

I know water rights are complicated, but how in good conscience can city hall in Redding or any of us around town keep our lawns green this summer when there's supposedly not enough water in Lake Shasta for a woman to grow food in Happy Valley? Lawns before food?

But Bruce Ross, citing a study by the Public Policy Institute of California, says letting lawns die may not do any good. He posts:

Its figures (cribbed from the California Water Plan) show that in 2000, California farmers used 34.2 million acre-feet of water while all residential outdoor water use, plus water for parks, golf courses and the like, was about 3 million af.

So even if we cut all outdoor water use by half -- not a remotely attainable goal in the short term, but we're supposing just for sport -- you'd save 1.5 million acre-feet, or less than 5 percent of the state's farm demand. The scale of agricultural water use compared with what city folk use really just doesn't compare.

On a personal note, I'll add that I keep my lawn alive, barely, during the summer, but most of my own spike in water use goes to the vegetable garden. The commercial growers are certainly raising food far more efficiently, gallon-for-gallon, but the taste of home-grown tomatoes? Priceless.

Meanwhile, I'm hearing thunder and pounding rain outside, and Interstate 5 is flooded out in Lakehead, about a half-hour north of me.

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