Drought Q&A: Pros and cons of artificial grass?

What are the pros and cons of replacing a yard with Astroturf or a similar artificial grass? – Tom Parks, Sacramento

After publication of a story on synthetic lawns in our Home & Garden section on March 15, several readers wrote in with their recommendations and personal experiences. Most loved it, but artificial turf is not for everybody. Some cities, including Sacramento, forbid artificial turf in city codes. But in light of the drought, those restrictions may be lifting as more people seek low-water landscape options.

Before installing synthetic grass, check with your local water agency or city utilities department. While some communities have restrictions on artificial turf use, others offer rebates for installation.

Recent technological innovations make today’s fake grass look just as good – or better – than the real thing with little maintenance. The biggest benefit: green play space that requires no water.

“It is amazing that a healthy grass lawn typically requires 55 gallons of water per square foot per year,” said Brian McGibbon of Fields of Green, a Northern California synthetic lawn company. “That is 44,000 gallons of water per year for an 800-square-foot lawn. Our products can last 15 to 20 years. That means a new 800-square-foot waterless lawn (can) save 660,000 gallons over 15 years.”

On the down side, some synthetics can get hot to the touch, especially if located in full sun. Also, fake turf, unlike real grass, is not biodegradable. The biggest issue may come when trying to resell your home. According to real estate agents, artificial grass turns off most prospective buyers.

– Debbie Arrington

Which uses less water, washing dishes by hand or running them in a full dishwasher? – Greg Steur, Fair Oaks

The dishwasher almost always wins this water-saving argument.

According to industry studies, the average automatic dishwasher uses about 6 gallons per load. Energy Star-rated efficient dishwashers whittle that water usage down to about 4 gallons a load.

Now, turn on the tap. Kitchen sink water flows at an average rate of 2 gallons per minute. Can you do all your dishes in less than three minutes?

Another study compared dishwasher capacity to water use. Most dishwashers hold enough dishes (plates, bowls, cups and glasses) plus flatware to serve eight people. That averages about 9 ounces of water per dish. If you were to wash those dishes by hand with the same amount of water, that works out to 4.4 seconds of faucet time per dish.

If hand-washing dishes, you could cut down on water waste by turning the faucet on to a trickle or re-using your rinse water. But even with those allowances, it’s hard to beat automation.

– Debbie Arrington

Why don’t we build the Auburn dam? – Roger Canfield, Fair Oaks

The Auburn dam project is laden with complexities and controversy, and these are just two reasons it has not been built.

Congress first authorized the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to build the Auburn dam in 1965. The concrete arch dam was proposed near the city of Auburn in Placer County, upstream of Folsom Reservoir. Earthquake risk stalled the project a few years later. It would have stored about 2.3 million acre-feet of water by flooding the north and middle forks of the American River.

There are two main reasons it’s unlikely to be revived. First, although the Bureau of Reclamation still is authorized to build the Auburn dam, no planning is underway to build it. Also, Congress never has allocated sufficient money to build it, and none is allocated now. In 2008 the State Water Resources Control Board withdrew water rights associated with the project because Reclamation had made no progress toward using those rights (because it had no money for construction). So even if Reclamation got money to build the dam, it has no water to store it.

The most recent cost estimate to build the dam put the price between $6 billion and $10 billion. This 2007 study was ordered by former Republican Rep. John Doolittle and completed by Reclamation. So, yes, the estimated $68 billion cost to build high-speed rail would be more than enough to build the Auburn dam.

But the study highlighted other challenges. For instance, there’s a difference between how much water a dam can store and its “water yield.” The latter term refers to the amount of “new” water a dam would able to deliver to cities and farms, vs. water it would be required to pass through because it already is obligated to some other purpose. The 2007 study put Auburn’s water yield at 200,000 acre-feet – a relatively small amount for a reservoir of that size and cost – largely because a lot of other obligations have emerged in the last 50 years, including water flows for endangered fish.

– Matt Weiser

Have a question for our team of drought reporters? Ask them at www.sacbee.com/water.

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