Drinking Water More Precious Than Grass in California

Ornamental grass—the kinds of grass that line medians and roadsides but never serves for recreation—is a vanishing amenity in a drought-stricken West.

2 minute read

September 14, 2023, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

People lounging on grass in Alamo Square park in San Francisco overlooking painted ladies Victorian houses and city skyline

The grass in public parks, like Alamo Square in San Francisco, pictured here, can stay. | jack-sooksan / People in San Francisco park

California legislators approved a bill, AB 1572 (Friedman), to ban the use of drinking water for ornamental grass—also known non-functional turf—grass never used for walking or recreation.

Ian James breaks the news of the approved legislation in. paywalled article for the Los Angeles Times, putting the scale of ornamental grass in perspective for Southern California readers:

Grass covers an estimated 218,000 acres in the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s six-county area. Nearly a quarter of that, or up to 51,000 acres, is categorized as “nonfunctional” turf — the sort of grass that fills spaces along roads and sidewalks, in front of businesses, and around parking lots.


This unused grass covers an area roughly 12 times the size of Griffith Park. By eliminating this grass and replacing it with landscaping that fits Southern California’s arid climate, the district estimates the region could reduce total water use by nearly 10%.

The bill cleared the state legislature with a 28-10 vote by the California State Senate, and now heads to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom for a signature.

A few cities and states in the southwest have taken steps to restrict the use of specific water supplies for ornamental and other types of grass, including Las Vegas, Tucson, Castle Rock, Aurora, and the state of Nevada. Many of these new water restrictions only apply to new developments, however.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023 in Los Angele Times

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