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Watering Bermuda grass in the winter
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

We are idiots. Or at least the politicians in Sacramento that relentlessly sound the climate change alarm are.

This is because of a scene depicting an exercise in futility with overtures of self-destruction that played out Monday in my neighborhood.

A man was dutifully hand watering an area of grass in his front yard that was yellow.

Forget the fact it had just rained a few days prior. Ignore the morning frost that points to air heavily laden with moisture. Overlook the top three or so inches of soil that lawns draw water from are moist. And set aside the reality that Bermuda — and similar grasses — often turn yellow in the cold of winter when non-native California grasses that constitute many lawns are a lush green.

That scene undoubtedly was repeated thousands if not tens of thousands of times across California on Monday.

This is in a state that is still in the clutches of a serious drought. This is in a state that has decided it is necessary to forcibly legislate changes in what its residents use for everything from what powers the cars they drive to what they use to bag groceries in the store at all in the name of reducing the degree of climate change in the short-term horizon of the next 100 years.

It’s only water, right? So, what if nonchalantly wasting a couple dozen gallons of water here and there by spraying lawns that have no need for it on a moist winter day is going on? What harm could be done?

Open your eyes. Take a look around.

Drive down Interstate 5 on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Look at the orchards that had many years of fruit and nut production remaining that were allowed to die and are being ripped out so limited water could be used to keep younger trees alive.

They aren’t just dead trees. They represent a loss of jobs for some of California’s poorest people who work to keep us fed. It reflects reduced food production. And if you don’t know what that means when the supply can’t meet demand then you have no clue why we’re currently enjoying inflation that’s pushing 7 percent.

Visit rural communities around Tulare. Take note of water trucks parked in public places and the distribution of bottled water in East Porterville. The wells of rural residents — many of them the working poor — have run dry.

Take note of salmon runs. To try and bolster their survival the state has been trucking them past anemic flowing rivers that lack adequate water for their movements and cover to reduce their consumption by predators. In some cases, at certain times of the year low water flow combined with warmer temperatures due to less water rob rivers of oxygen suffocating fish while also literally “frying” temperature sensitive fish.

Ask the people in charge of Tracy’s water supply how the drought has cramped their ability to make sure they have adequate water despite securing it from three sources — the State Water Project, the Stanislaus River via the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and wells.

All of this begs the question: Why isn’t Sacramento banning all lawns in the front yards of all new homes being built in California and requiring the use of drought-tolerant landscaping? Drought resistant landscaping not only uses less water and can be vibrant but it reduces the potential for air pollution by not planting grass that is cut almost exclusively by gas powered mowers.

The California Legislature either lacks the backbone to make such a law, is clueless which is a real possibility as well, or could be climate change warriors driven not by deep thinking and concern for the future but political polling.

That said the governor has the power.

Gavin Newsom has declared a statewide drought emergency. There is not a visible person on either side of the aisle that disagrees we are in a serious water emergency although there are clearly different opinions on how it should be addressed.

What he needs to do is simple. Newsom needs to impose an immediate ban on all front yard lawn areas for new home construction as well as banning ornamental grass areas in new commercials and industrial projects.

It can be implemented by blocking jurisdictions from issuing occupancy permits until the area that cities and counties require be devoted to grass is instead planted with drought resistant landscaping.

This is clearly a health and safety issue with groundwater levels plunging, anemic reservoir levels, and drought weakened wild lands that are more susceptible to wildfires.

Landscaping, depending upon the region in California, can consume 50 percent of all urban/suburban/small town water use. Of that lawns account for the majority of the outdoor urban water consumed in this state.

And to make matters worse, most of the water that fuels growth in many areas of the state is imported from another water basin.

Front yard lawns rarely are used for anything else than to just look pretty. Perhaps some people still view them as status symbols but is that justified simply because they can pay for all the water they want?

The move toward shrinking the front yard of the envisioned 52-home Farmhouse subdivision in south Manteca by reducing the home setback from the sidewalk by a foot and adding that foot to the rear yard makes sense.

Most people use their backyards as a place to do things instead of just look at the grass.

And while you could never expect most local governing bodies in this state to do something logical that goes against the grain of people’s perceptions of what a front yard should look like, you might expect them to do so if growth is critical for their community.

Other places are going in the right direction. Las Vegas is moving to implement a front yard lawn ban on new homes starting in 2028.

You might argue that Las Vegas is in the desert. But for a good chunk of the year the Northern San Joaquin Valley emulates desert precipitation conditions.

Yet, we’re as oblivious to that as the guy was on Monday to the fact no matter how much water you direct to a lawn with Bermuda grass in the cold of winter parts of it will turn yellow and stay that way until spring.