Agriburbia: Growing Crops on Suburban Lawns
October 13, 2009
Allan in Agriburbia, Highland Ranch, Lawns, Musings on Gardening, Musings on the Environment, Stephanie Simon, Sterling Ranch, Wall Street Journal, drought, water conservation

Drought has permanently parched the lawns of Highland Ranch, Colorado.What would you do with your lawn if water were to become scarce? Here is a report of some measures take by wise communities in America’s west. Clearly, they understand the dire consequences of allowing drought to become someone else’s problem. A recent article posted to the online site of The Wall Street Journal tells the story and introduces a new word into our vocabulary.

According to a US Geological Survey, lawn irrigation in the United States represents an average of 32% of a household’s water usage. In western USA, however, that average climbs to more than 60%. These numbers are vexing because repeated droughts in the west have made water scarce there. Lawn irrigation is no longer sustainable. All residential projects now on the drawing board for that part of the country ought to be accompanied by a conservation program that treats water as a precious commodity.

A new suburban community is being planned in the West where the development team plans to use grass as a “throw rug rather than a carpet”. The members of that group understand that a green lawn cannot be a realistic expectation for future home owners. A water conservation program is essential if that development is to come to fruition. The picture above is an aerial view of Highland Ranch, a Colorado community in the vicinity of the planned project. Development of that neighborhood occurred in the 1990’s when water was relatively plentiful. The image clearly demonstrates how repeated drought has turned the lawn areas from green to straw-yellow.

Water conservation techniques for the Sterling Ranch, the name of the planned community, will include the use of grass as decorative trim only. This measure will apply to private property and community land equally. The balance of the land ordinarily used for green lawns will be covered not only with drought resistant trees and shrubs but also with edible crops such as strawberries, corn and herbs. This latter treatment is a new concept called: "Agriburbia”.

Furthermore, yards will be a few inches lower than the sidewalks, allowing these lowered lawns to become receptacles for soaking up moisture. Any runoff or rain water that hits the pavement will flow into 55,000 gallon cisterns built underground. This body of tightly rationed water will be available to homeowners for their gardens. Abusers of the program will be fined and will have their irrigation privileges suspended.

Developers are also monitoring ongoing research into photovoltaic panels mounted on tall poles that might act as giant sun screens to prevent the evaporation of water from storage areas. Finally, all athletic fields will be covered with artificial turf. It is heartening to learn that some communities in Arizona and New Mexico that are experiencing drought adopted similar measures and now report a decrease in water consumption. This is a remarkable example of what happens when communities are determined to solve a problem rather than talk about it in sound bites.

The details in this posting, including the image above, were originally reported by Stephanie Simon in the Wall Street Journal online on October 13, 2009. Her article is titled “In Arid West, Thirsty Lawns Get Cut from Plans”.

Article originally appeared on Garden Design, Montreal, Perennial Flower Gardens, Gardening Tips, Gardening Advice, Gardening Book Reviews (http://allanbecker-gardenguru.squarespace.com/).
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