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Painting the lawn green and other ways Californians are dealing with the drought

how california homeowners are dealing with drought home xeriscaping instead of lawn
In place of a big lawn, this home has xeriscaping with desert plants. Kathy Burns-Millyard / Shutterstock
Last summer, on a visit to Crater Lake in southern Oregon, I saw signs on a restaurant’s tables indicating they weren’t serving water unless a patron requested a glass. The area, like California, is suffering through a drought.

Like the restaurant, California residents are cutting back on water waste. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown recently put mandatory restrictions in place, saying all cities and towns must reduce water usage by 25 percent. It’s not a universal number, though. Los Angeles, where residents were using 70 gallons of water per person each day, wouldn’t have to cut back 35 percent like Beverly Hills, where people were using 160 gallons.

California households use over 360 gallons of water each day, according to a 2011 study that tracked 735 homes in 2007. On average, southern states were using 183 gallons of water indoors and 340 gallons outdoors; for northern states, those numbers were 171 gallons and 125 gallons, respectively. The study broke down the indoor numbers further, showing that leaks wasted 31 gallons of water each day, while washers, faucets, showers, and toilets used between 30 and 37 gallons each. There are lots of ways to get those numbers down, though.

Xtreme Green Grass painted this lawn to make it appear healthy, sans water.
Xtreme Green Grass painted this lawn to make it appear healthy, sans water. Xtreme Green Grass


Per the new regulations, watering lawns within 48 hours of “measurable” rainfall is a finable offense. Some people are forgoing their lawns all together, either following the State Water Resources Control Board’s urgings to let the die or finding creative solutions. Some are painting their lawns green. Others are ripping them up and putting in artificial turf (to the dismay of homeowners associations) or shrubs and plants that thrive in drought conditions (known as xeriscaping), thanks to rebates available in some areas.

Greywater and rainwater

Water that gets flushed down the toilet is sewage. When water flows down the drain in showers and sinks, it’s called greywater and in some cases may be reused in certain instances, like flushing toilets or in irrigation. As for collecting rainwater, it helped Australia through its recent drought, which lasted over a decade. However, UC Davis engineering professor Jay Lund writes on his blog that they may not make sense financially, but their presence could serve as reminders that water is a precious commodity.


Pool construction hasn’t slowed down in California; actually, it could have the highest number of builds and rebuilds since 2007. That’s without help from the city of Milpitas, which banned new pools last year. San Jose recently joined several other cities in restricting how much water homeowners can pour into their pools. A one-foot topoff is okay; filling an entirely new pool is not — though a $160 fine may not be enough to scare off those willing to flout the ban. And those in the pool and hot tub industry are arguing that while it takes 20,000 gallons of water to fill up the suckers, if it’s replacing a water-hogging lawn, it’s a better investment in the long run.

Efficient appliances

Californians who still have a dishwasher from before George H.W. Bush was president and a pre-George, Jr. washing machine may want to look into replacements. Energy Star-rated appliances put a tight restriction on how much water these appliances can use, but they only went on the market in the mid-90s or later. Older dishwashers use 10 gallons more water than newer models, while WaterSense toilets can reduce H2O usage between 20 and 60 percent. The state may offer rebates to help incentivise the purchases. To help cut down on water lost to leaks, the EPA has some tips on finding and fixing them. Even for those with low-flow showerheads, there’s a Beat the Song challenge, which urges people to download a five-minute tune (or two punk songs) and finish getting clean before it ends.

Car wash

Showing once again how seriously it’s taking the drought, San Jose banned car washing at home. For everyone else, there are restrictions on the type of hose that must be used. Luckily for those with filthy vehicles, there’s a car wash that will the job with just a cup of water. Or Californians can sign the #DirtyCarPledge and just let the dust pile up.

Even if you don’t live in a drought-affected state, you can still take some simple steps to reduce your water bill.

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