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The Best Time to Mow your Lawn

A wonderful cook with a splendid range of dishes; she knew that among all things sweet, her egg custard pies were my favorite. Far into my adulthood she dispatched these treats and I was always reminded of my first venture into commerce, and the receipt of cash and custard for my labor. In time, grass cutting did become an intrusion into busy days that try souls of teenagers or young fathers, and later that of the children of the older father. Through the years, the mowers became more powerful and their cut wider.

Nonetheless, when you count up the hours and the weeks and the years, you realize that an amazing amount of time has been spent cutting grass. Figuring two hours a week for 26 weeks a year; over 50 years I hit 2, hours. Expressed another way, that is the equivalent of 65 hour work weeks. But Dad, as so often in my life, has given me a new perspective on grass cutting.

At , he no longer cuts the grass, though he did only a year ago, riding his old Craftsman riding mower over the same yard that I cut so many times in those wondrous, simpler days of my youth. The conversation had somehow turned to the yard, and army worms, and grass that needed mowing because rain and sun had conspired to make it grow high quickly.

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I knew he was saying that the day will arrive for all of us who live long enough that something as mundane as cutting a yard may come to be one of the most desirable things for which we might wish. Although it was early, the yard felt like an oven, but every lap was like coming home to memories that you could only discover in the fulcrum of that experience. We had planted every tree in the yard. The little longleaf pines that we had held, a dozen in one hand, are giant trees now.

The oaks shade half the yard. I cut around the grape arbor from which thousands of gallons have been harvested and on whose jellies I have long feasted. Limbs on the pear tree lay heavy with a crop that will need picking before long. The figs are sparse, and only a few peaches show their faces on the trees that Dad lovingly pruned and doctored over the years.

In California, state regulation of landscape water use is done primarily through the publication of a "Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance" MWELO , which as the name implies, is to be adopted and enforced by local government agencies.

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However, under state law, if localities fail to adopt this Model Ordinance or something equally stringent, the provisions of the Model Ordinance take on the force of law anyway. So the Model Ordinance is, in fact, a statewide regulation by default - a minimum set of requirements that are applicable in every jurisdiction.

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As part of the state's emergency response to the drought, Governor Brown has called for a directive to tighten state rules to make new landscapes more water-efficient. The Department of Water Resources DWR has responded with a draft proposal that points the way to better landscapes and water stewardship, but falls short of several needed changes that would transform our turf heavy outdoor spaces to sustainable, pollution reducing, climate-appropriate landscapes.

This updated Ordinance shall increase water efficiency standards for new and existing landscapes through more efficient irrigation systems, greywater usage, onsite storm water capture, and by limiting the portion of landscapes that can be covered in turf. It will also require reporting on the implementation and enforcement of local ordinances, with required reports due by December 31, The Department shall provide information on local compliance to the Water Board, which shall consider adopting regulations or taking appropriate enforcement actions to promote compliance.

The Department shall provide technical assistance and give priority in grant funding to public agencies for actions necessary to comply with local ordinances.

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As the name implies, this is the quantity of water that a new landscape must be designed to stay within. With a reduced water allowance, developers and designers of new landscapes will need to employ more efficient irrigation technology and select plant materials that require less water. But with attractive alternatives to water-hungry turf now widely available, the continued installation of ornamental turf in new landscapes has to be seen as a wasteful practice.

Functional turf has its place, now and in our future, for playing surfaces and places where people assemble. But turf as an ornamental ground cover should be disallowed in state regulations covering new landscapes, and DWR has stopped short of that goal. Preventing rainwater from running off into gutters and into oceans and streams picking up debris and polluted substances along the way simultaneously improves water quality and reduces the waste of water that is otherwise shunted away to storm drains.

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The avoidance of waste requires the treatment of rainwater and stormwater as resources. On-site retention and infiltration is already required by many stormwater permits applying to large new projects in major cities.

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By including this requirement in the Model Ordinance, we can ensure that rainwater is put to beneficial use in new developments of all types throughout California. DWR's new draft Model Ordinance encourages, but does not require, rainwater catchment and storm water retention. Unfortunately, previous "recommendations" in the Model Ordinance have not been effective. Given the magnitude of the state's need for maintaining adequate water supplies and for improving the quality of stormwater discharges, a reasonable requirement for on-site retention for new development just makes sense.

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A clear standard for retention and infiltration in the Model Ordinance will help ameliorate both the water quality and water availability challenges facing the state. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. You can't manage what you don't measure.


DWR took a positive step by including new requirements for separate measurement of water applied to landscape irrigation. Unfortunately, under the proposed revision, the installation of meters are limited that to larger properties. The only way a landscape can be managed to ensure that it stays within the water budget to which it was designed is by measuring the amount of water being applied. Can you imagine trying to manage your finances if you never saw a bank balance? Inexpensive meters are available for this purpose, and the capability for property owners to conveniently read such meters and analyze their data through mobile devices is growing.