Let’s end love affair with grass

It’s time to give up our love affair with traditional grass as ground cover for our yards. The environmental and economic consequences are getting too costly.

We are seeing a serious consequence of ubiquitous grass lawns in the Twin Cities area — depletion of ground water even in times of wet weather. The most noticeable example is the White Bear Lake area, where the lake is leaking water into the surrounding aquifer. The depth of White Bear Lake is receding.

Guess what depletes water levels in aquifers? Heavy lawn watering in spring and summer.

Area hydrologists say they know very little about ground water. This is scary. Most Twin Cities western suburbs rely on ground water, either from city or individual wells. This is our drinking water, bath water, cooking water.

Often cities drill wells and sell water to business and residential customers. The state of Minnesota has noticed and is asking cities to submit wellhead protection plans. One part of this plan is making sure that surrounding wells do not interfere with the ability of city wells to draw water.

Cities such as Medina and Delano are looking at costs of drilling new wells, constructing water towers and water treatment plants, and connecting everything to water customers. Potential home buyers in Medina, and very likely neighboring suburbs, might be in for a surprise when they look at their conditions of sale. One condition is likely to be that the homeowner cannot use city water for irrigating his lawn.

In Medina, city agreements with developers of new subdivisions are asking the developer to provide a water supply for lawn irrigation. In part this water supply is likely to come from ponds designed to collect storm water. Often storm water is not enough and the developer must seek state approval for drilling a well. New technology enables a homeowners’ association to send water to selected parts of the development during certain hours of the day. If you miss your watering hours, you are out of luck.

We don’t have to create water starvation. We can educate our eyeballs to enjoy ground covers that are not traditional turf grass dependent upon frequent watering. Unfortunately, some ground covers are too messy in appearance to appeal to some people’s tastes. For example, neighbors of the Edina Post Office complained that prairie plantings surrounding the building were unsightly.

When I walk past prairie plantings, I look closely and discover beauty. Sometimes I find milkweed, a favorite place for butterflies to cling and soak in sun. Milkweed is the favorite food of Monarch butterflies, whose population is declining along with availability of milkweed.

Most people don’t want to plant their entire yard in native prairie. These plantings could be confined to part of the yard. Or a homeowner could choose a part of the yard for ground covers such as sedum that often have flowers.

The rest of the yard could be a play area covered with drought resistant grass — great for a game of Frisbee. Some types of grass require watering only a few times a year, and they don’t need frequent mowing.

Anyways, who wants to spend precious time off from work doing lawn chores, such as mowing?

Homeowners see economic consequences of heavy lawn watering while paying property taxes and water bills. When a city drills a well, erects a water tower and builds a water treatment plant, the money comes from somewhere. Usually, the city sells bonds and raises costs to water customers. Or maybe property taxes are used to repay debt.

Increased cost of city water has consequences for the local economy. Businesses have to pay water access charges. If WAC charges are too high, a business decides to locate in some other city. Goodbye potential jobs.

Do we really want all these consequences? Wouldn’t it be easier and less costly if everyone planted less traditional grass and more drought resistant grass, ornamental ground covers and prairie areas?

 

Contact Susan Van Cleaf at susan.vancleaf@ecm-inc.com

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