With 18 states under severe drought conditions this summer, many homeowners
are left high and dry. Those forced to comply with watering restrictions can
only watch in horror as their lawns and vegetable gardens turn from green to
yellow to brown. But wait, good old American ingenuity is coming to the
rescue. Many are turning to the old-fashioned rain barrel to catch precious
drops from the roof. And the draconian solution that causes consternation
among neighbors is installing artificial turf with no watering required.
The rain barrel was a fixture until the second half of this century in rural
areas. Several wooden feed barrels placed at drainage points around the barn
could produce hundreds of gallons of soft pure water for livestock, watering
and indoor uses. With the advent of irrigation systems and indoor plumbing,
the rain barrel became somewhat obsolete. Now it's enjoying a renaissance
thanks to dry conditions across the country. Florida is suffering from a
three-year drought, with groundwater levels not likely to return to normal
levels for many months. Enter the rain barrel. County extension offices and
city agencies in Florida and Washington State can't keep them in stock. Some
industrious homeowners are learning how to fashion rain barrels out of old
plastic drums by adding a spigot and a screen to the top.
Channeling the flow of water from rooftop to gutter to barrel pays dividends
for thirsty lawns and gardens. One inch of rain flowing off a 1,000 square
foot roof is enough to provide 625 gallons, more than enough to nourish a
small lawn or garden. The only problems are mosquitoes and aesthetics. Standing water offers a haven for spawning mosquitoes but that's easily
avoided by screening off the barrel or adding a few drops of vegetable oil to
the water. And some neighbors may flinch at the brightly colored barrels.
Apart from those minor concerns, the only drawbacks are weight (a falling
350-pound barrel can be dangerous) and freezing in the fall and winter.
If you're ready to give up completely and want a no-water, no-maintenance
lawn, then how about a plastic lawn? Artificial turf is now making its debut
on lawns, although not without controversy. Some homeowners say the faux
grass cuts down on hassles and costs, and helps them comply with water
restrictions in drought areas. Albuquerque is one of several cities that
provide an incentive by offering as much as $500 to residents who convert at
least some of their lawn to landscaping that needs little water. (But not
necessarily artificial turf.) Similar laws are in force in places like Las
Vegas and Mesa, Arizona.
How much will it cost you? About $10 a square foot. That means a 1,000
square-foot artificial lawn can run $10,000, several times as much as natural
grass. Of course, you won't be paying for fertilizer or water, or even
paying a landscaping company to mow it. But how many years will that take to
pay off? True, reducing water waste during the dry season is good but
artificial turf absorbs less rainwater than grass, which could lead to
flooding in some areas. Some neighborhood associations have adopted policies
against the invasion of bright green plastic grass.
Sources used to create this article include Rick Brooks, Sarah Collins and
the Wall Street Journal.