The freedom to water?

Water sprayingNow that freedom is on the march and there’s a movement afoot to allow us to burn incandescent light bulbs if that’s what we want, perhaps the next battleground is water.

As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports today, there’s a coming “crackdown” on people who use too much water on their lawns.

“To crack down on such water wasters, Woodbury is pioneering a new water-conservation tool — water audits.”


“Officials were outraged to learn that a single user — a home in the ritzy Powers Lake Point area — used 471,000 gallons last summer.”

A “crackdown”? “Outrage?” You’d think the “targeted” homeowners were breaking the law. But, in fact, they aren’t. While these homeowners may be gluttonous, earth-destroying, sloths, there’s no law to stop them. Should there be?

As usual, the greatest show on earth, is the comments section of a newspaper’s Web site, with opinion ranging from:

More liberals controlling our lives-Kids are starving in Haiti due to ethonal and we wnat to monitor water usage in Woodbury. Great!!!!!


The state legislature needs to get involved in this water debacle. We need to implement a state-wide tax of at least $1 per gallon of water used.

That last one came from someone from North Dakota. Three words, Fargo: You go first.

As any newspaper carrier can tell you, an early-morning drive around Woodbury, especially in the rain, will find lots of automatic sprinklers in action (usually in townhome developments where no single person appears to be in charge anyway).

There actually is a law in Minnesota that requires rain sensors to be installed on lawn-irrigation systems. It passed by wide margins in the Republican-controlled House, the DFL-controlled Senate and was signed by the Republican governor.

The real mystery here is what is it about green lawns that drives Minnesota into such irrational exuberance? I have friends — yeah, in Woodbury — who weren’t sucked into the lawn-care marketing and when dandelions sprouted, their neighbor came in the dark of night and applied weed-killer to their lawn. What is it we think a green lawn says about us that we’re so desperate to have it say?

Ted Steinberg, author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn,” says it’s a Post World War II thing:

As American industry became more efficient in turning out innovations people needed–such as washing machines, stoves, cars and more–there still was plenty of capacity left over to turn out even more products that were less essential–such as those that could be used to create and maintain perfect lawns.

  • Dandelions? Bah. That’s not the half of it.

    I wish we could get away from the ridiculous notion that we should be mowing all the time. It’s noisy and burns a lot of gas through engines that don’t seem to have any emissions standards, and short grass just invites weeds to thrive anyway, which in turn drives the need (well, desire) to pour tons of chemicals onto them.

    I’m moving to Arizona where lawn care means raking designs into the sand.

  • Q

    The only reason people started mowing a yard space around their homes was to be able to find and kill the snakes. Where did it all go wrong?

  • GregS

    Wait a minute!!

    Before the wooley headed Liberal start barking at lawn sprinklers, could we all just stop and take a deep breath?

    The question isn’t to water or not to water. The question is “Is watering a problem” and “where is the water coming from”.

    If we are in a drought and lawn watering is straining municipal watering systems, then there should be restrictions on drawing water from municipal watering systems for lawn care.

    If there is no drought, municipalities make money selling water and that is not a bad thing. Right?

    But if there is a drought, the question still remains, where is the water coming from?

    People and developments should be encouraged to store water in holding ponds where they can draw on them during drought.

    Anyone who have been around the suburbs lately knows all about holding ponds….why are we not using them for lawn watering?

  • bsimon

    Greg- the ponds aren’t necessarily a bad idea, but come with their own problems – standing water means mosquito habitat. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch… However, rain barrels are an alternative to water collection & containment that doesn’t require as much space as ponds do – and can be treated for mosquitos more easily.

    On the expansive green lawns thing, I recall reading somewhere that it started with the Brits – as a status symbol. Only the most affluent could afford to hire the necessary manpower to maintain copious expanses of neatly manicured lawn. Like many habits of the rich, the aspiring-to-be-rich picked up on the habit, which has now led to the pecular American habit of competing with our neighbors to have the greenest, most perfectly maintained, weed-free lawn. At our house, we water the plants, but let the grass burn out.

  • QT

    /Like many habits of the rich, the aspiring-to-be-rich picked up on the habit, which has now led to the pecular American habit of competing with our neighbors to have the greenest, most perfectly maintained, weed-free lawn/

    AKA: The Jone’s

    My garden stays green-that’s my priority and the lawn can get pretty brown.

  • Bob Collins

    I bought a big old oak former bourbon whiskey barrel last year (saw it on This Old House). I love it. I use it with a soaker house in the garden. But it has to rain once a week to make it a real saver. OTOH, if I could daisy chain a few together that might work better.

    I have to admit. I have spent a few evenings unscrewing the hose from the downspout and sticking my nose into the barrel.

    It really smells great! (g)

    Woodbury, btw, was offering grants for people to make rain gardens this year. I intended to apply, but alas, forgot. Slowly — very slowly — I’m taking up pieces of lawn in the front and turning into gardens.

  • mary q. contrary

    /I use it with a soaker house in the garden/

    whats a soaker house bob? and were you making a joke or is the daisy chain gardening some sort of technique that I am uninformed.

  • Jim

    In Minneapolis we have to pay for the rain and the hose water. My rain bill is $12 a month rain or shine (or snow).

    Who’ll pay for the rain.

  • The guy must be making ethanol in his basement…