Brown is the new green… for lawns

More of us prepared to let lawn go brown, Victoria survey finds
Bill Cleverley / Times Colonist
June 19, 2013

Victorians’ summer love affair with lush, green lawns is on the wane.

Last year was the first year a majority of Greater Victorians surveyed reported they did not water their lawn, according to a report going to the Capital Regional District water commission today.

Among those who do water their lawns, nine out of 10 do so at the frequency permitted by the watering bylaw or less, according to the annual survey.

It’s a far cry from 2001, when the notion of lawn- watering restrictions was so foreign to Victorians that the CRD hired half a dozen students to look for scofflaws and remind them of the strict conservation measures that were brought on by a drought.

“I really think you’ve got a generation that has taken this to heart,” said Mervyn Lougher-Goodey, a Sidney councillor who chairs the CRD water commission.

“They know the grass is going to come back. They’re putting in drought-tolerant plants. They’ve bought in.”

Lougher-Goodey said he waters his lawn using an irrigation system timed to kick in according to the restrictions.

“But I’ll bet you I’m the only guy watering my lawn on my street. Everybody else has just got brown lawns and there’s a real cross-section of population here — a lot of working folks who don’t have the time or interest and a lot of younger folks who can control their water bills [by reducing water use].”

Saanich Coun. Dean Murdock, the commission’s vice-chairman, said he’s not surprised at the shift.

“Last summer, I saw brown lawns all over the place. You see them in our parks. You see them on our boulevards,” Murdock said. “I think there’s been a considerable shift in the way people think.”

The CRD has been conducting its residential water survey since the 1990s, annually interviewing about 500 residents by telephone on their attitudes and practices regarding water use.

Among the findings for 2012:

• Residents are satisfied with the quality of drinking water. The number of residents drinking tap water has increased from 35 per cent and 40 per cent in 2004 and 2008 respectively, to 50 per cent in 2012.

• A majority (85 per cent) support the water-conservation bylaw. The proportion of residents who use outdoor water-efficiency practices is increasing.

• There is an upward trend in households with low-flow toilets, and water-efficient dishwashers and laundry machines.

Lougher-Goodey said he’s “flabbergasted” that only 50 per cent of those surveyed said they drink tap water. “I thought it would be more like 90 per cent,” he said.

Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, who was water commission chairman in 2001, said he’s not surprised residents have adopted the conservation ethic, but it might have happened more quickly than he expected. “We’re a city of gardens but not necessarily a city of lawns.”

The CRD has maintained that conservation measures are necessary, even in years with a good water supply, to ingrain water-saving habits that are essential in drought years. Restricting use also means there’s less need for an expensive expansion of the water system.

Ironically, because less water was being sold, revenue dropped. That led to higher water bills in order to pay for the cost of running the water system.