Yes, I know that marriage is supposed to be a partnership, but was it really necessary to discuss the front lawn?

It’s a postage stamp of a lawn, I reminded her, hardly big enough to notice. And don’t forget that our children played on that very grass.

I brushed away a tear, but she paid no attention. The children are grown-up and gone, she said. Now there’s a water shortage.

Women can be so unsentimental.

In self-defense more than anything else, I decided to find out what it would mean to replace the turf that once brought so much joy to our family.

Tape measure in hand, I surveyed my average city lot. Let’s see, 19 feet by . . . It turns out that I am the owner – make that the co-owner – of 625 square-feet of grass.

I called Dan Muelrath, the City of Santa Rosa’s water conservation coordinator.

He was very helpful. In fact, he was too damned helpful.

Probably your lawn is irrigated by sprinklers with overlapping spray patterns, he guessed.

Well, yes, how did you know?

They’re not very efficient, he noted.

Muelrath led me to a water use table at the city’s water conservation Web site. (

There I learned that in the month of July, one square-foot of turf will use 4.09 gallons of water. But drought-resistant plants will use only 1.23 gallons.

The calculator, please. Bottom line: The potential savings amounts to 1,787.75 gallons of water per month.


Your real-life savings will probably be more than that, Muelrath added helpfully.

Almost 1,800 gallons a month. This was more than I expected.

At a public hearing on water rates earlier in the week, some hard-core folks testified that they use less than 2,000 gallons in a month for everything.

And I was using 1,800 gallons for that stupid lawn.

Muelrath told me that Santa Rosans use about 13 million gallons of water per day in December – and 32 million gallons on the hottest summer day. Most of the difference between winter and summer demand is used to irrigate landscaping. And turf uses more than three times as much water as other plants.

OK, so my wife was right. (Are you surprised?) No more watering the lawn.

Eager to cash in on my born-again devotion to conservation, I then calculated how much money I would save by reducing water consumption by 1,800 gallons a month.

It turns out I would save $7 a month in the hottest months of the year.

I called Mayor Susan Gorin. Your honor, shouldn’t the city want to do more to discourage me from using all that water?

“Absolutely,” she said, “for you, we’ll make up a special bill.”

Wait. I meant, shouldn’t the city want to discourage everyone from using all that water?

“You’re absolutely correct,” she said, “. . . I think that’s the direction the council will give at some point.”

She then told the story of a local home owner who uses 124,000 gallons of water in a month – a person primed to become the poster child for rates aimed at folks who use a lot of water.

Finally, I asked the mayor if she thought I should remove my lawn?

“Definitely, ” she replied. “Rip out that lawn and make a statement.”

“Now is the time,” she added, “that each of needs to evaluate our water use.”

For now, there are no limits on watering residential lawns, but our lawn will be allowed to turn brown, while we decide what to do next

We might even seek a government bailout. The city’s “cash for grass” program will pay us 50 cents a square-foot if we remove the turf. (Would it be impolite to mention that the North Marin Water District pays the residents of Novato $1 a square-foot?)

On a rainy day last December, an elected official in Sonoma County – who shall go nameless – asked me what government could do to curb global warming.

Well, I said, you could reduce water and energy consumption by outlawing lawns for landscaping.


I was kidding. But four months later, this conversation doesn’t seem so farfetched .

Drought, global warming and federal protections for endangered species are combining to reduce water supplies and turn the political landscape upside down.

We, Californians, live in an arid climate, while modeling our landscaping after English gardens. In doing so, we conveniently forget that we moved here to escape places with cool, wet weather year-round.

Maybe it’s time to adapt to a landscape ideal that respects the natural surroundings, the costs of pumping water long distances and the likelihood that water will always be scarce.

“If the last time you walked on your lawn was when you mowed it,” advised Windsor Town Manager Matt Mullan, “maybe you should consider something else.”

I learned three things last week: (1) we wouldn’t have a water crisis if we replaced ornamental lawns; (2) sometimes the reward in life involves doing the right thing; and (3) it’s not such a bad thing that marriages are called partnerships.