If you live in California, or pretty much anywhere in the American Southwest, go on Google Earth and look at your neighborhood – what do you see? If your area is anything like the majority of Southern California, then you’ll probably see a lot of green grass, nice gardens, and backyard pools. Great, sounds like where you live is the ideal suburbia, filled with summer adventures, barbeques, and community t-ball leagues. But underneath all that harmony and quality of life lies a very pressing, yet oftentimes hidden, danger; a region prone to droughts.

Despite the beauty and elegance of many southern Californian homes and estates, the reality of the situation is that we live in a desert, and looking at the average street or neighborhood, it would seem like we live in at least a temperate zone. But what you don’t see is all the infrastructure and water usage that is necessary to keeping our areas green and, now that we’re in a drought, is pumping California dry.

Extreme Drought
We’ve had droughts before, so how bad can this one be? Earlier this week, the national weather service released data which observed that 80% of the state of California is in what experts call ‘extreme drought,’ putting us up 12% from 3 months ago when extreme drought only covered 68% of the state. In fact, the situation has become so dire that on Tuesday, July 15th, the California State Water Resources Board for the first time in its history, declared certain types of water wastage a criminal infraction, comparable to a traffic violation.

In light of this new ruling, water usage deemed excessive – such as watering sidewalks, landscape irrigation which runs off into the street, and washing your car in your driveway without a shut-off nozzle – will result in a $500 fine per day/infraction. According to the State Water Quality Control Board, the state of California has repeatedly failed to meet the 20% reduction in water usage sought by Gov. Jerry Brown at the requests of many conservation experts, making these fines a necessary development in the fight to protect California’s resources.

Additionally, the state and several local governments have established “tip” hotlines for neighbors to report unnecessary or wasteful water use in their neighborhoods, in an attempt to help officials enforce the new rules and fines. In some cities like Sacramento, these hotlines have received upwards of 10,000 calls from concerned citizens, reporting excessive water use and turning in their neighbors.

While at a glance, these measures may seem uncomfortably draconian or un-American to say the least, many experts and officials agree that the reality of the situation has degraded to the point where these actions have long been overdue and are now an unfortunate necessity.

Approaching a Water Cliff
However, despite these concerns and new regulations, you have to admit that we have had little consequences for our unsustainable level of water use as of yet. Sure, a $500 fine per infraction can get pricey fast, but considering that the severity of the drought has been steadily increasing while our water use has remained the same (or in some places gone up), it is becoming clear that we are fast approaching a cliff – or waterfall if you will – where the real economic and environmental consequences of unsustainable water use will far surpass those recently implemented by Californian officials.

And those of us in the Bay area or the Pacific Northwest aren’t off the hook either; in addition to living a similar lifestyle, a good portion of the water resources and rainfall in these more temperate regions is exported to Central and Southern California to support California’s industrial, agricultural, and commercial markets in general, and with a region-wide drought in effect, no area is disaster proof. Drought on this scale represents a clear and present danger to our current lifestyle and, thanks to the new rules and regulations, our wallets as well.

But there is hope; we haven’t gone over the waterfall yet, and if we take the proper precautions and implement effective conservation methods, we can likely avoid the negative effects of uncontained drought altogether.

Making Changes
For many of us, this shouldn’t be too hard to do. The average household in California uses 130,000 gallons of water a year, and simple changes to our daily routines – such as cutting shower time by a few minutes, keeping the facet off while shaving or brushing teeth, and setting our sprinkler systems to only water at night or early morning/late afternoon – can cut this water usage by up to 35% or more.

But ultimately, while these methods are certainly helpful and can lead to a better environmental future for California, they fail to address one of the leading causes of excessive water use throughout the American Southwest; thirsty lawns and gardens.

From an environmental perspective, it doesn’t make sense. If you live in a desert, why would you waste such a scarce and important resource such as water on keeping a green lawn and lush, beautiful garden? But many of us don’t share this perspective and view green lawns and gardens as an essential part of the American dream, which we are unwilling to part with.

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
Luckily, we may never have to. New developments in drought resistant grass and plants, like artificial turf are a prime example and allow us to have our cake and eat it too; we can have a green lawn and be water friendly at the same time.

I know, I know, artificial turf looks very, well, artificial… right? Actually, products like artificial turf have come a long way since your parent’s time and no longer look fake and cheesy. In fact, there are many new forms of turf available on the market now, with different textures and color schemes, allowing it to fit in more with the natural environment, preventing it from looking too green or perfect.

Additionally, not only is it much more environmentally friendly, artificial turf is cheaper to “plant” and much easier to maintain, making it the best choice for both the environment and your wallet.

Water and money are necessary to enjoy the high quality of life we have become accustomed to here in California, so why waste either? Constantly watering your grass when up to 80% of it will just evaporate and disappear into the atmosphere is akin to pouring out your wallet over a paper shredder; ultimately, you’ll just end up wasting time and money with little result.

Drought Resistant Lawns
That’s why, in addition to tweaking your average morning routines, installing artificial turf and more drought resistant plants in your garden will go a long way toward saving you money and healing the environment. Before, we were often posed with making a decision between those two factors, but now, we choose both at the same time.

Also, did you know that by installing an artificial lawn you’re eligible for state and local programs that offer rebates and other cash incentives for installing artificial grass?

Check out the Do-It-Yourself Easy Install Guide to learn how to install a synthetic lawn at your house.

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