Helton: America’s lawns aren’t worth their watery price tag

Grass takes up three times more space than any other crop in the country, and the water needed to sustain it is indefensible.

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Helton: America’s lawns aren’t worth their watery price tag

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Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

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My least favorite chore in high school was mowing the lawn. In the dead heat of July, I’d cut the grass at least twice, if not thrice, a week. All that time pushing and sweating and meticulously painting straight lines in my yard got me thinking, “Is all of this worth it?”

Of course, that whiny teenager wasn’t primarily concerned with the water-supply ramifications of the green front yard, but the question still stands: Are lawns worth all the water we use to maintain them? At the current levels, not even close.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American family uses roughly 48 gallons of water a day for watering. What’s more is that about half of that water is considered wasted, from over-watering, leaks, and other environmental factors. And that’s the nationwide average. In parts of the country with a hotter and drier climate, the amount of water used outside could be doubled and account for over half of all water used by a household in a day.

All of this is to keep some grass near our houses looking green and desirable. And unless you keep a cow or two in your front yard — something I’m sure the homeowners’ association would look down upon — the short green crop doesn’t serve much of a purpose besides looking pretty.

Unless you keep a cow or two in your front yard — something I’m sure the homeowners’ association would look down upon — the short green crop doesn’t serve much of a purpose besides looking pretty.”

This wouldn’t be that big of a problem if grass wasn’t the most widely planted thing in the country. That’s right, the grass in your and practically everyone else’s yard the takes up more than three times the area of any other irrigated crop in the United States, according to a NASA study.

So we have something taking up more space than corn or soybeans or wheat — and we can’t eat it. Not only are we wasting water, but in order to grow one of those sought-after American-suburbia lawns, we have to use tons of fertilizers and pesticides.

That brings us back to my least favorite chore. Because we are, in fact, growing something, we have to harvest it — or is this case, cut it down and either throw it away or just let it sit there. Almost all of us use a gas-powered mower, which isn’t helping our carbon-emission crisis. My high-school self was wrong about most things, but he was right to question the cost of a lawn maintenance.

But let’s not be teenagers who complain all day and do nothing to fix it. What can be done to fix this?

For one, we could stop caring so much. But just letting the grass grow and die doesn’t seem like the most savory solution (and homeowner associations won’t be happy either). What can be done is other uses for our green yards. Gardens, especially the ones that grow something edible, would be a much better use of land. So would planting more trees, which are generally better at sequestering the carbon emitted by mowing whatever wasteful lawn remains.

Whatever we decide to do, being more aware of our water use is essential, especially in a time in which we are incessantly reminded that our natural resources are not limitless. And as a bonus, we’ll make our lists of chores a little less exhausting.

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