Lawns are water guzzlers. Granted, there are some turf grasses that require less water but they have not yet gained favor with the general public. In fact, I would guess that most people are unacquainted with buffalo grass (which does not remain evergreen in zones 5 and 6) or no-mow grass.
It hasn’t happened yet in Ohio but some states, like California, that face greater water supply problems, are debating whether to legislatively restrict the amount of lawn that a property may have. Should the restriction be less severe if the owner can prove that the only water being used to irrigate the lawn is from diverted rain water or gray water? Some of the proposed legislation would restrict lawn to a quarter of the property with the proviso that more might be allowed if the owner can prove that he is conserving water in other ways. Those who argue that lawn adds curb appeal might want to rethink that thesis.
Any well-designed landscape will add curb appeal and, in fact, could also add fragrance, flower, fruit, color, and texture.
Another aspect of water use that needs to be examined is irrigation. How many times have you seen sprinkler systems spraying water on lawns when it’s raining? At the very least, there should a requirement for moisture sensors that override timers that many property owners never think to turn off or on. If irrigation is needed, subsurface or drip irrigation will lessen the amount of water that ends up as runoff or that evaporates into the air. We need to avoid wasting our water.
Collecting the rainwater from our rooftops and downspouts is not the answer but it is a way of preventing some runoff from going into the storm sewers. Some of the runoff can be diverted into rain barrels and then used to water your plants. Although many rain barrels are unattractive, they don’t have to be. Get out the paint brush and be artistic.
Another diversionary tactic is the use of an attachment to the downspout that directs the water into the nearby landscape beds. If you worry that the extra water in the beds might be too close to the foundation, plastic pipe could be joined to the attachment to move the water further from the house.
A third method is creating a rain garden. These shallow depressions surrounded by dirt berms and planted with climate-appropriate shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials are designed to temporarily hold diverted rainwater from rooftops and paved surfaces until it can percolate into the soil.
Designing an attractive rain garden is more complicated than one would think because well-designed rain gardens have several terraced levels that require plants with different moisture sensitivities.
All of these are small steps that we can take to help conserve water and direct it back into the soil and the aquifer below instead of sending it into the sewers.