"NON - Functional TURF"

irrigation turf Jul 04, 2023
One doesn't have to go far to see the perils of growing turf here in our western climate:
  • Way too much water
  • Monoculture and lack of biodiversity
  • Pesticide use (post and pre emergent herbicides)
  • Fertilizer use (N and P that leach into our waterways and aquifers)
  • Air Pollution from 4 and 2 cycle trucks and maintenance equipment
  • HUGE carbon footprint: water transport and pressure, maintenance equipment, and fertilizer
  • Lack of habit or wildlife value
... just to name a few.
But turf has its benefits (functions):
Great for sports, kids playing, playing games, or attending social events.
And fun to grow, I must add, it's a horticultural challenge that's fun to take on.
While large expanses of turf can still express prestige and affluence, it also, rightly, now comes with expressing a lack of ecological or social responsibility, of being out of touch with reality, of snobbery.
So... given yet another topic to argue over,  a topic that involves water and land owner rights, a topic that touches that "right to pursue happiness" ethic, there's no surprise that we've got a bunch of various rules, regulations, and definitions that, while well-meaning, can be confusing and get folks downright angry. This affects property values for goodness' sakes!
If you're still in the pro-turf-wherever-we-want-it-because-it-makes-me-happy camp, I get it, but consider this:  Why do you think there are SO many water agencies giving away lots of money for "cash for grass" rebate programs?  Another thing to consider:  Doesn't it make sense to be compliant with the current California Building Code?  Please realize that MOST of the turf you see everyday would not currently be allowed to be planted if a building permit were involved.
Check it out here where the California Green Building Code specifically references the California Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO), (Title 24, Part 11, Chapters 4-5)
Or consider that in March of 2023 Governor Gavin Newsom declared an Executive Order that on May 31, 2023 was readopted by the California State Water Board banning non-functional turf in California.
Questions about that?  Here's their FAQ page.
Still not convinced?
How about the current assembly bill making it's way through our Legislature, AB 1572.
This bill would make the ban permanent -but also better define it.
Please also note that some water agencies, such as Valley Water, have already acted unanimously to do so!
What's not so surprising is, similar to the MWELO, the State has given local municipalities and water agencies some leeway to create their own rules, regulations, and definitions as long as they are more stringent than the State's.
What is surprising, is that the California Water Board specifically gives HOAs the ability to define what turf is "Functional". The end result, of course, has been a hodgepodge of different rules, regulations, and definitions for folks to argue over. And when lawns turn brown and die, arguments arise.
What's really difficult is that once folks wrap their heads around the vast amounts of turf that are currently non-functional, it becomes a triage situation where limited funds, resources, and time are directed toward what might appear as an impossible situation. How do we prioritize? What is the strategy? How much time have we got? How do we define what's functional or not?
I put together a little video to describe how I see the situation and dive into some of the definitions.
Two little things:
  1. Re: the fun to grow argument, the horticultural challenge: While growing turf may be fun in its own way, and can make one happy when successful at it, becoming an ecological manager with a diverse plant palette including natives is WAY more interesting and requires much more attentiveness and knowledge, and, aside from the ecoservices it provides, it is by far more fun as an endeavor. That AND, by definition in most cases, residential turf is "functional", so if you live in a single-family home, you can have a lawn as long as you don't exceed your Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA).
  2. If you Golf: Don't worry, ALL the definitions I've seen clearly define ALL golf turf as "functional". You guys have lobbyists, apparently.

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