Water & Drought

Curtis Park lawns spark debate during drought

Newly installed sod in front of a Curtis Park home
Newly installed sod in front of a Curtis Park home efletcher@sacbee.com

The social networking website Nextdoor is great for catching up on petty crime, lost pets and garage sales in the neighborhood. But if you want to really stoke up the online conversation, try calling out your neighbors for their green lawns.

Nextdoor, essentially an electronic bulletin board, exploded with comments earlier this month when one Curtis Park man vented frustration about what he considered to be suspiciously lush lawns in his leafy neighborhood south of downtown.

“The possibility that we could run out of water is very real, and yet, there are those among us who seem to believe that they are entitled to ignore water restrictions, in the name of their beloved green lawns,” Michael Feliciano wrote in a July.

He pointed out that at least two Curtis Park homeowners recently planted new sod. And he asserted others couldn’t possibly be keeping their lawns so lush while complying with the city’s twice-a-week watering restrictions.

Fellow residents of Curtis Park and nearby neighborhoods immediately jumped in. Some seconded Feliciano’s sentiments, while others accused him of being judgmental or defended their turf. As of Tuesday, 148 replies had been posted.

Drought shaming, it seems, is a sign of the times. Sacramentans are filing reports accusing their neighbors of violating city water restrictions in ever increasing numbers. The city also has dispatched inspectors to patrol neighborhoods in cars, looking for violations. As of July 15, complaints generated by both neighbor reports and city patrols had jumped nearly 26 percent over last year at this time – to 12,970.

Individual water districts have adopted various watering restrictions. In Sacramento, for instance, outdoor irrigation is permitted only twice a week, on specified days. But many homeowners have gone further – turning off their sprinklers entirely. Some dessicated lawns sport signs handed out by the city of Sacramento declaring: “Gold is the new green.”

But plenty of streets still sport emerald expanses of grass. In his post, Feliciano opined that relatively affluent neighborhoods such as Curtis Park have a disproportionate number of still-green lawns. In a phone interview, Feliciano said he doubted most of the Curtis Park homes could maintain their turf in such condition without watering more heavily than is allowed.

“There is a lot of denial out there,” he said. “People are very attached to their lawn. I don’t think it’s a justified use of what is becoming a more scarce resource.”

Some Nextdoor users responded by calling for a construction moratorium. Others called the post judgmental and said they are able to keep their lawns green while watering twice a week. At least one person argued it would be worse for everyone if all the grass and trees all died. One asserted that the drought was just being used as an excuse by lazy homeowners to get out of yard work.

In a phone interview, Anne Mitchell, of nearby Land Park, said having a green front lawn doesn’t mean the resident is a water waster, a point she also made online. She said her family sharply cut the water they use for the front yard and instead focuses on deep watering their front yard tree. Thanks to the tree, the lawn stays remarkably green with two short weekly waterings, she said.

“Don’t shame, unless you see water actually being wasted,” Mitchell said.

Neither of the homeowners whom Feliciano chided for planting new sod would agree to speak to The Bee about their decision. The city doesn’t prohibit installation of new sod, but the same watering restrictions apply as for established lawns.

Considering killing your lawn in favor of drought-tolerant landscaping? In this installment of The Sacramento Bee's Water-Wise Homeowners series, landscape architect Michael Glassman offers strategies for boosting curb appeal while reducing water