Environment & Science

Strict new rules will slash lawns to 25 percent of new home landscaping, force cutbacks in remodels

A worker digs a trench in front of a home under construction at a new housing development on March 17, 2015 in Larkspur. California's not just paying people to get rid of their lawns. The state's also sharply curtailing how much grass is permitted in landscaping around newly constructed homes and complex remodeling projects at old ones.
A worker digs a trench in front of a home under construction at a new housing development on March 17, 2015 in Larkspur. California's not just paying people to get rid of their lawns. The state's also sharply curtailing how much grass is permitted in landscaping around newly constructed homes and complex remodeling projects at old ones.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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New rules passed by state regulators will limit how much grass Californians can plant at new homes and some larger remodeled ones.

The update to a statewide model landscaping ordinance passed by the California Water Commission offers yet another signal that the drought is altering how the state uses water, especially drinkable water, permanently. Local governments will have to adopt the ordinance, or something that saves at least the same amount of water, by the end of the year.

Provisions in the ordinance cut in half the amount of lawn permitted at new homes, and cover more properties than ever before; they’ll apply at any home with more than 500 square feet of landscaping. Previous versions of the model ordinance permitted 50 percent of landscaping to be grass; with the current revision, turf can make up no more than 25 percent of a home landscape.

When existing homes with at least 2,500 square feet of landscaping do complex remodeling, they’ll have to cut their water use, and cut out lawn, too.

After voluntary turf rebates, it’s the next logical step, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Tracy Quinn.  

“It certainly doesn’t make sense that we’re allowing new development to put in lawns while we’re paying other people to take them out,” she says. “So what this model ordinance will do is make sure that new communities are built smarter right from the start.”

Quinn and other experts say the rules could make drought tolerant plants easier to obtain at local nurseries, meaning that Kentucky Bluegrass could give way to California sagebrush at existing homes too.