Illustration by Leslie Tello and Jeanine Martinez

The Grass is Not Always Greener

The Winning Essay of the Mojave Water Agency's 2020 Essay Contest Regarding Water Conservation

The idyllic white picket fence and perfectly manicured lawn have represented the American Dream for decades. Unfortunately, this dream has quickly turned into a nightmare for water conservation. According to the EPA’s WaterSense program, about 9 billion gallons per day are dedicated to landscape irrigation nationwide. In addition, many grass lawns are not native, which dramatically increases their ecological toll, according to a study on the effects of lawns conducted by Dr. Cristina Milesi and her team. This is especially true for lawns in the High Desert. Because of the massive influx of people and limited water supply, this issue is concerning. To combat this pressing problem and help preserve water, people should replace lawns with native plants, water their lawns responsibly, and invest in better equipment.

Native plants are an excellent alternative to standard grass lawns. It reduces the amount of water required by 20 to 50 percent, according to the EPA; it also decreases the amount of maintenance needed. Other benefits include using less fertilizer and pesticides, aiding wildlife and pollinators with shelter and food, and promoting biodiversity, according to the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District’s article, “What’s so Great About Native Plants?” 

There are many ways to convince people to ditch the turf. For instance, money is a great motivator. Cash for Grass programs, like the Mojave Water Agency’s, are very convincing. These programs provide those who convert existing turf into drought-resistant landscapes with rebates; their large scale program gives residents and business owners one dollar for every square foot of ornamental turf removed, while their previous residential program, which ended in 2018, gave fifty cents per square foot. Informing people of their options is also crucial. They cannot choose them if they are not aware of them. The website is an amazing tool for High Desert residents because it showcases a variety of desert-friendly plants that would decrease the amount of water needed for their upkeep. Another valuable resource is Victorville’s Center Street Park Demonstration Garden, which features alternatives to grass in practice to inspire homeowners; it can compel many to trade in boring grass for their beautiful designs. Getting people to remove their lawns is not the only solution.

If people must have a lawn, they should water it responsibly. 50% of landscape water is wasted, according to the EPA. In order to use more water effectively, it is important to consider the time of watering and the amount of water used. It is better to avoid watering during times when the sun is present or on windy days, which are common in the High Desert. Overwatering is another major contributor to this issue. Most times, lawns do not need to be watered daily, or even every other day. Watering soley the brown spots will also help.

Many methods of enforcing conscientious watering are available. Currently, Victorville limits the hours and days when watering is permitted. It also only allows hand watering with a shut off nozzle and prevents people from washing paved surfaces unless there are sanitation or safety hazards. In Hesperia, watering is permitted any day, as long as no water runs off, according to the city’s website. Fines may be imposed on the violators. Regulations like these will greatly benefit water conservation.

Lastly, getting new devices is another way to preserve water. Many new tools are available to reduce water consumption. As mentioned before, a shutoff nozzle is very useful. Other equipment are pressure regulating devices, high efficiency nozzles, flow control devices, automatic shut-off devices, and controllers, according to an article written by Reed Libby, published on Adjusting existing equipment is also beneficial. Homeowners should fix sprinklers so that they are watering plants rather than the sidewalk and set sprinkler clocks so that they only go off during the appropriate times and seasons. Inspecting equipment for leaks is extremely important as well, as leaks are one of the main causes of landscape water loss. 

Many things must be done in order to persuade people to invest the time, energy, and money in these devices. Libby states that people should stress the economic benefits. Although they can initially be pricey, they turn out cheaper in the long run. Getting new devices can serve as a middle ground for people who feel passionately about the environment but do not want to remove their lawn.

To accommodate a rapidly growing population, the High Desert needs to encourage its inhabitants to replace grass with desert-friendly plants, use water responsibly, and get better devices. Native plants offer many benefits in addition to being water-wise. Watering responsibly will save water that is usually wasted. Newer tools also save water by using it more efficiently. These tactics are meaningless, however, if no one knows about them. That is why it is imperative that people are educated about this issue. Resources, like the plant website and garden, deserve a lot more recognition. Communities should work together to give them the acknowledgment they deserve by spreading the word. Informed people should lead by example. Governments need to create and enforce more motivating policies and harsher regulations, especially in growing areas; it is easier to prevent than to do damage control. All of these factors will lead to a more sustainable future for all residents of the High Desert. Let’s resolve to be more water-wise during 2020 and remember that grass is not always greener.


Works Cited

“Desert-Friendly Plants for Victorville Landscapes.” Water,

Hester, Yvonne. “MWA’s Large Scale Cash for Grass Program Reaches Milestone.”, Mojave Water Agency, 7 Aug. 2018,

Maintenance, Reed Libby. “Water Conservation Ideas for Sprinkler Systems.” Affordable Lawn Sprinklers and Lighting,

Milesi, C., R. Nemani, and C.D. Elvidge. 2009. Assessing the extent of urban irrigated areas in the United States. In: Global Mapping of Irrigated and Rainfed Cropland Areas using Remote Sensing Eds: P.S. Thenkabail, J.G. Lyon, H. Turral and C.M. Biradar. Taylor and Francis. In press.

“Outdoors.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 20 Sept. 2017,

“Victorville, CA.” Demonstration Garden | Victorville, CA,

“Victorville, CA.” Water Conservation | Victorville, CA,

“Water Conservation.” City of Hesperia – Official Website,

“Water Efficiency Management Guide Landscaping and Irrigation.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, Nov. 2017,

“What’s so Great about Native Plants?” EMSWCD,

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