A green lawn on one side compared to a xeriscaped, drought-friendly yard on the other.

Photo Credit: Max Pixel / Comox Valley Horticultural Society

Green Lawns—They’re a Bit Weird, Aren’t They?

We're a little obsessed

We use drinking water to keep our lawns green

We need to get smarter about water—and our lawns.

North Americans are obsessed with the idea of the perfect green lawn. In 2019, the lawn care industry generated almost $100 billion in the US. In Canada, lawn maintenance generates $13 billion a year.

But lawns are a bit strange here, aren’t they? We’re so into natural beauty. We love stormy seas. Rugged mountain vistas. Hiking trails through old-growth forest. And… flat green lawns?

Some folks need to pay others to mow, fertilize, and weed a lawn, like the elderly or those with mobility challenges. But for most people, let’s just say it’s a want, not a need.

But the more important issue is water. We irrigate our thirsty lawns with water that we pay millions of dollars to treat to drinking water standards. But why? Citizens of water-starved nations would find this absurd, unbelievable, and even reckless.

Take the Comox Valley, for example. The regional district paid more than $100 million for a new water treatment facility and deep water intake in Comox Lake. Yet every year, a portion of this drinking water is rationed out so people can keep their lawns and golf courses green.

Wouldn’t it be easier to install rainwater capture in all new builds? And give folks grants to retrofit their homes and businesses with rainwater barrels?

Rain is free and abundant for most of the year on VanIsle. Sure, we’ve had a wet spring, and our reservoir is full. But remember last year’s drought?

And climate change is going to make droughts more intense.

Why not make xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant landscaping, a standard feature of all new homes? And we can make it easier for homeowners to redesign their yards with water conservation in mind.  

Yes, we get a lot of rain in the winter. But we also have hot and dry summers. We need to conserve water for drinking and putting out forest fires.

If you insist on a lawn, then enjoy it when it’s green and lush in the wet season and watch it fade to gold when it’s dry.

Don’t panic; it will be green again when the rain comes back.    

But using drinking water to irrigate lawns and golf courses? There has to be a better way.