As the water shortage grows more acute in California, the state is exploring new ways to encourage homeowners to reduce water consumption. A recent assembly bill, Assembly Bill 349, which permits homeowners to install artificial turf without fear of fines from their homeowners association (HOA), was approved unanimously last month by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Expanding Existing Protection

The new bill, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) was approved by an overwhelming majority and and now heads to the state senate for a vote. While previously HOAs were able to prohibit the use of artificial turf for landscaping and had the power to fine homeowners for not keeping their grass green, the new bill supersedes the authority of HOAs.

It expands protections for homeowners after the bill AB 2104, also authored by Gonzalez, was signed into law last year.

The 2014 AB 2105 bill sought to eliminate loopholes used to prevent homeowners replacing existing lawns with low-water alternatives. The new bill makes it even easier for homeowners to pursue synthetic turf options without fear of reprisal.

Changing Old Habits

“We face a very real water shortage that challenges many of our old habits,” said Gonzalez after the bill’s approval, “and there’s nothing fake about our responsibility to find ways to conserve wherever we can.”

Gonzalez points out that landscape irrigation accounts for more than half of the average household’s water use and residential water use as a whole makes up 35 percent of water use in California.

Since more than a quarter of the state’s housing stock are common-interest developments typically governed by HOAs, many of the state’s conservation goals rely on the ability to implement conservation via HOAs.

Exploring Every Option

As the drought drags on, concern about dwindling water supplies in California are becoming more widespread. While HOAs in the past were resistant to allow homeowners to make the switch to artificial turf, attitudes are changing.

“People thought fake turf, fake anything, that’s out, that’s cheap,” said Sarah Richardson, VP of J.D Richardson Companies, who manages 60 HOAs throughout San Diego. She went on to describe how all of the HOAs under their supervision are now open to artificial turf as long as they follow certain “quality standards.”

Safer, Healthier Turf

Part of the debate over artificial turf involves addressing concerns about possible toxic run-off. For decades, synthetic turf used on sport fields has been suspected of leaching toxic chemicals and even potentially leading to health concerns for those exposed regularly.

The issue, as raised by environmental groups like the San Diego-based Surfrider Foundation, relates to the padding placed under the turf, often ground up tires and junk rubber. They claim this padding does not allow for the soil to absorb rainfall, resulting in toxic runoff.

Still, Assemblywoman Gonzalez, like a growing number of others, believes newer materials are safer and more eco-friendly.

“[The new turf] is more porous so you have less runoff,” says Gonzalez, “and you have to balance environmental needs. Right now we know the number one environmental issue in California is the drought.”

Growing Support for Conservation

With California entering its fourth year of drought, the emphasis on water conservation becomes more vital. As Assembly Bill 349 awaits Governor Jerry Brown’s approval, the focus is shifting towards changing attitudes, freeing homeowners to pursue every means of conversation, and limiting HOA restrictions.

Given the nearly complete lack of opposition to AB-349 in the Assembly, the bill is likely to garner bipartisan support and become an important step towards helping California meet and exceed its conservation goals.