In Southern California they are called “water cops”. They are county government employees who inspect lawns. When the lawn is suspiciously green or there is even water wasted on the sidewalk, responsible families face fines or even a water stop in the garden area.
Blades of grass are only the tip of the stick in Southern California, but they are by no means a trivial problem. The state’s water authority has had to cut 95 percent of the water supply from the Sierra Nevada to cities this year, as it did last year. For a century, meltwater from high mountains was diverted to California to create a green oasis of semi-desert. But since 2000 there has been a so-called mega-drought. The drought lasts for decades.
So far this year there has been less rain than at any time since records began. A dry spring came after a dry winter that did not refill the ice in the mountains; Cabinets are shrinking. Scientist Park Williams, who analyzes tree rings at the University of California, already sees a drought more severe than the massive drought of the 16th century. Williams and colleagues say today’s man-made drought is the worst since the year 800.
About 85 percent of the water diverted into Southern California cities flows into residents’ parks. Residents love the perfect lawn. But the water police are now getting in the way. Nowhere is tougher than Las Virginia, at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains, where only 77,000 residents are allowed to water their lawns for eight minutes once a week. In the past seven months, a quarter of households have been levied, including Calabasas County, where the rich and famous live in homes worth up to $30 million.
A water endowment has already been imposed on a park of 40 properties, and one is imminent for more than 2,000 families. One of these Tuscan-style mansions is owned by reality TV star Kim Kardashian. “Everyone in the county is working hard to conserve water, including Ms. Kardashian,” her spokeswoman declared. Her neighbor Sylvester Stallone protested the restrictions: the 500 trees on his property needed water to flow into the grass. Lawn care companies in the area, which lost 50 percent of their sales this year and last year, believe the trees are suffering from drought.
Now, the full spectrum of American creativity is playing a role in this crisis. Those who do not want to fight the water board resort to other options. The Wall Street Journal estimates that a third of Californians now spray their lawns with a non-toxic substance
Green coloring. The exercise developed early in the massive drought. Homeowners looking to sell their homes use color as a promotional tool. A company called LawnLift, similar to Facelift, aggressively advertises its services as a type of cosmetic procedure popular in Southern California. Even in the exclusive Adelaide Drive gardens in Santa Monica Canyon, there is now an alternative to artificial turf in colors like ‘spring rye’ and ‘vista naturale’.
However, elsewhere in California, in San Francisco, which has suffered a little less damage, it is not uncommon to let the grass turn a natural brown. Many recycle household wastewater from the shower and washing machine, known as gray water, and plant species like native sage, California poppy and lilac in their gardens use up to 70 percent less water than grass. The city of San Francisco held a “Ugliest Garden” competition and advertises with slogans such as “Brown is the New Green.” The winner got the native plants.
But the love for meadows is still stubborn: parents answer that children can hardly play in the gardens of cacti and rocks. Therefore, starting in 2026, the city of Las Vegas will allow lawn watering only for single-family homes, and not for anyone else. Last year Governor Gavin asked
Newsom also urged citizens to reduce shower time by 15 per cent and to check all water pipes for leaks. But according to Mercury News, water use in California has increased nearly 19 percent since 2020.
In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Water Authority has also begun deploying water police. Cason Gilmer, Calabas County’s chief water officer, tells The Wall Street Journal that he sees his mission as more law enforcement than educational: “Moreover, my kids think I’m the coolest guy right now.”