About 90% of Iowa is experiencing extremely dry or drought conditions. River levels are low. We are facing a water shortage. Des Moines Water Works is asking central Iowa residents to scale back lawn watering by 25%.
That’s a small ask. We can all certainly do that. Actually, we can do much more. We should immediately stop all watering of established grass.
Businesses, apartment complexes, nursing homes, churches, universities and individual homeowners should turn off the hoses and irrigation systems.
Go ahead and water new grass that needs moisture to seed, grow and build a root system. But skip the watering of established lawns. Let’s make dormant grass cool. It will be fine for months.
“Most of the turf grasses we grow in Iowa are designed to go dormant, and they can go dormant for 30 to 60 days,” said Adam Thoms, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture at Iowa State University who specializes in turf grass.
The worst thing we can do for the health of grass, he said, is bring it in and out of dormancy with sporadic watering.
“People see their lawns start to go brown and they water the yard to make it green again. Then they get a water bill or get tired of dragging out the hose and they stop watering and it goes dormant,” he said. This uses up the carbohydrate, or food, reserves in the plant, basically starving grass.
He also said that, if you feel the need to mow your lawn, raise the mower up to 3.5 inches. “But once you don’t see growth, you don’t need to mow anymore.”
Less mowing sounds good. So does having enough clean drinking water.
Iowans may take our access to water for granted. It has historically been abundant and relatively inexpensive compared with other areas of the country. This luxury has contributed to sprawling green corporate lawns, the installation of water-wasting sprinklers at parks, and the freedom to not think twice about draining and refilling a hot tub.
But we are now in the midst of a drought. There may be more droughts.
“With climate change, I think we have to start thinking more about how we change our habits to protect the tenuous resource of water,” said Graham Gillette, chairman of the Board of Water Works Trustees.
He isn’t watering the lawn at his home. Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan told an editorial writer he isn’t watering his, either.
None of us central Iowans with established lawns should be.
The request to voluntarily reduce lawn watering by one-fourth is stage one of the utility’s water shortage plan. If residents do not comply, we will get to stage two sooner and will be asked to reduce all outdoor water use by 50%.
We don’t want to get to stages three and four, which include prohibiting lawn watering, terminating water service to those who refuse to comply, and rationing.
So please stop watering the grass. It doesn’t need to be green.