ON THE PICTURE : Screenshot of John Oliver discussing the idea of the “iceberg in a diaper” on YouTube: https://youtu.be/jtxew5XUVbQ.
by David Goldstein
On a nationally televised program last week, news comedian John Oliver criticized a local response to the drought. Oliver’s rant, viewed on YouTube more than 2,760,000 times last Tuesday, called the study of a suggestion to tow an “iceberg in a layer” in Ventura County “monumentally stupid” and an example of how Americans living in arid regions have not properly planned for water shortages.
In fact, the Iceberg Initiative was just one of eight drought responses considered by a consultant hired by the Ventura City Council in 1990. Rather than an example of stupidity, it might indicate how the alternatives were studied before arriving at our current situation of water shortage.
Local governments and county water providers have responded to the current drought with vastly different measures, including restrictions on outdoor watering. In areas with the hottest climates and most dependent on the Metropolitan Water District, restrictions include not only limiting outdoor watering to one day per week, but also limitations on the duration of that watering, the flow rate of sprinklers and a runoff ban. .
In these areas, the amount of water that can be applied to lawns is far less than the amount recommended in a lawn watering guide for California, compiled by the University of California, Davis and sent out two weeks ago. by John Fonti of Newbury Park. . Therefore, a local drought response measure is likely to be widespread browning or replacement of lawns.
Indeed, according to Dr. Jim Downer, the University of California’s agricultural adviser for cooperative extension, turf specialist and based in the university’s Ventura office, some lawns in parts of Ventura County will only become not just inactive; some lawns will die.
Downer, like most dedicated scientists, provided several caveats. As detailed in his blog gardenprofessors.com, the wide range of varieties and species of lawn grasses will respond differently to water deprivation. Warm-season grasses, including Bermuda grass, St. Augustine grass, and kikuyu can survive conditions that kill cool-season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, ryegrass, and tall fescue .
Unfortunately, tall fescue is the variety used in Marathon Sod, which is common in Ventura County. “If we get the expected warm weather, in areas with strict watering restrictions, that grass will die and not come back,” Dr. Downer said.
“In contrast,” he continued, “Kikuyu grass can survive months without water application, especially on the coast, but even in the hottest parts of Ventura County.” Similarly, Buffalo grass can survive “being brown nine months of the year”, and Bermuda grass “can come back after being dead in dry soil, down to the stolon”. Downer referred to an underground stem capable of regenerating a lawn after the rain returns or watering restrictions are relaxed.
Rather than maintaining lush green expanses year-round, Downer suggests people limit lawn size and treat lawns as a seasonal garden. His own garden, in Ojai, previously had 1,000 square feet of grass. He narrowed it down to 100 square feet of St. Augustine grass shaded by trees and watered only when the trees are watered. The rest of his yard is now seasonal grassland. Wildflowers bloom in the spring, die, and set seed for the following year.
Additional variables for grass survival include shade, slope, and soil type. Loam is the best soil. Clay soil retains the most water but does not make it as available to plants. If you have sandy soil, especially if you’ve already watered too frequently for your grass to develop deep roots, you have another reason to consider replacing the turf, rather than hoping for the survival of the grass.
To find turf replacement incentives in your area, go to the website of the supplier to whom you pay your water bill. As a baseline improved by some local providers, incentives through the Metropolitan Water District include rebates of $2 per square foot for replacing turf with a specified list of options. Options should include three plants per 100 square feet, a rainwater retention feature, and replacement or modification of spray sprinklers. No hardscape is permitted, other than permeable materials, and synthetic turf is not permitted.
This ban on synthetic turf incentives is being replicated by other local water providers in Ventura County, in part because some people use water to cool or clean plastic. Challenging this ban, Jack Sheehan called me last week and said, “Fake grass has always been a great way to save water while having a lawn. Mr Sheehan, 84, moved to a Camarillo retirement community from an even warmer climate a year ago and said his artificial turf had never been hotter than it was tempted to water it. He also explained the innovative way he cleaned it and “freaked out the neighbours” who knew his turf was artificial. He adjusted the blades of his lawn mower up high and used it as a vacuum cleaner. Mr. Sheehan still maintains a small patch of artificial grass, but now uses a leaf blower.
Taylor Dederick, who lives in Thousand Oaks and recently graduated with a degree in environmental science from California State University, Channel Islands, emailed me some great lawn replacement suggestions last week. “Consider a combination of succulents, which . . . tend to thrive year-round [or] consider creating a pattern with decomposed granite, wood chips, pebbles. . . and native plants.
When reworking your garden, using mulch and compost are important measures for soil health and water retention. Locally, Agromin and Peach Hill are the top sellers of both. Their decorative bark is a byproduct of fir trees used in paper mills, and both also have an attractive mulch ground cover made from recycled wood and brush collected from local trimmings, which can blanket a dead or dying lawn.
David Goldstein, environmental resources analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected]