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03.2012 www.greenbuildermag.com


FROM THE TAILGATE Sage advice from the trenches


64 The Elephant in the Front Yard H


ard as it is to imagine, it’s already time for our outdoor living issue for 2012 and that got me to thinking about a really interest- ing and informative book I came across called “The New American Landscape,” edited by Thomas Christopher (Timber


Press, 2011), in which I found some stunning statistics about lawns in America. The book says that, according to studies of NASA


satellite imaging, the country’s number one irrigated crop is—you guessed it—lawn grass. In fact, American lawns cover more than 40,000 square miles. Ironically, that’s a land area larger than the state of Kentucky. It goes on to state that “a 2002 Harris Survey sug-


gests that as a nation we spend $28.9 billion yearly on lawns” (That’s about $1,200 per house- hold.), and that we use three times as much synthetic pesti- cide on our lawns as we do per acre of agricultural crops—or about 67 million pounds annu- ally, according to the Safer Pest Control Project. Another startling set of


numbers comes courtesy of the EPA: “54 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, using 800 million gallons of gas per year and producing tons of air pollutants. One older gas-powered mower emits the same pollutants as 43 cars being driven 12,000 miles per year.” Even newer models of mowers emit “11 times the pollutants of a new car.” Adding a fi nal insult to injury, it is reported that “17


million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment.” But the stats of greatest concern are about water.


Between 50% and 70% of residential water use is attrib- uted to landscape, mostly lawns, translating to rough- ly 10,000 gallons of water per summer for each 1,000 square feet of lawn. So, how did we come to fi nd ourselves on this


treadmill of “water, fertilize, mow—water, fertilize, mow,” anyway? The answer is more complex than it


might seem at fi rst blush. I remember building in a Southwestern desert cli-


mate city that at one time required projects to meet cer- tain minimum percentage of turf in the landscape plan, an insane regulation that was later reversed in order to limit the amount of turf and other water-guzzling land- scape plants/trees in new projects. We have seen public policy go to some pretty ex-


treme measures to reduce water demand for landscape. The Southern Nevada Water Authority even off ered homeowners $1.50 a square foot for removing grass from their landscape. May I humbly off er that we might just want to use some common sense? GB


By Ron Jones


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